On Monday (29 April), a recently-well-known political activist Brad Bowyer took to his Facebook to question the Education Minister on a number of concerns he has on the newly proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) after the latter promised he would do it.
It was reported by The Straits Times that while Mr Ong was speaking at the Singapore Buddhist Federation’s Vesak Day celebration event at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza on Sunday (28 April), he pointed out that the Government will address the people’s worries on the new law, and provide them with detailed explanations.
He was quoted saying, “You ask, and we will answer, and we will solve these problems together”.
As such, Mr Bowyer asked the Minister a few questions, and some of them were – why is any ministry given the power to determine what’s “fake or misleading”, why the current existing laws like religious harmony laws or anti sedition laws are not adequate compared to POFMA which is “open to abuse is being rushed through”, as well as why is POFMA not applied to everyone equally?
Following his questions, TOC has written to Mr Ong via email, Facebook Messenger as well as posted it on his Facebook post asking his comments on Mr Bowyer’s concerns, and he has still not replied to us yet.
TOC also understands that Mr Bowyer himself has not heard anything from the Education Minister.
Besides Mr Bowyer, local filmmaker Martyn See has also sent an open letter to Mr Ong regarding the new Bill which he would like the Minister to address.
Based on his Facebook post, Mr See had forwarded an email to Mr Ong that comprises of an open letter which was previously addressed to a few Ministers, and is still eagerly waiting for his answers.
It appears that in his previous post dated 7 April, Mr See had sent his questions to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Law & Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran as well as Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong.
In the letter, he noted that since these Ministers will be authorised to be an arbiter of truths after the law is passed, he listed 20 statements and asked if they will “personally deem the following statements to be deliberate falsehoods and thereby classify them as unlawful speech?”
Here are the statements that were “gleaned from off-repeated sentiments found online” by Mr See:
1. “Elections in Singapore are rigged to favour the PAP.”
2. “HDB prices are inflated to enrich government coffers.”
3. “That the Singapore government pays its ministers the world’s highest salaries is a form of legal corruption.”
4. “CPF funds are used to shore up losses suffered by Temasek Holdings and GIC.”
5. “Singapore is a money laundering hub for corrupt foreign businesses and dictators.”
6. “Government surveys are skewed, biased and therefore untrustworthy.”
7. “Lee Kuan Yew’s assurance that the value of HDB flats will never go down was a deliberate falsehood.”
8. “Heng Swee Keat’s finding that the older generation are not ready for a non-Chinese PM is a deliberate falsehood.”
9. “The ruling to reserve the Elected Presidency for Malay candidates was primarily intended to disqualify Tan Cheng Bock.”
10. “Basic military training in National Service had “white horse” companies which ensured preferential treatment to sons of the elite class in Singapore.”
11. “Operation Coldstore (1963) and Operation Spectrum (1987) were wrongful detentions based on false allegations and trumped-up charges.”
12. “The ISD tortured prisoners to extract confessions.”
13. “The current government covets the Christian vote over secular rights.”
14. “The CECA trade agreement has enabled thousands of Indian nationals to secure jobs in Singapore at the expense of local PMETs.”
15. “PAP leaders tacitly endorse smear and hate campaigns conducted by online activism group Fabrications Against The PAP and the IB (Internet Brigade).”
16. “The courts in Singapore favour government-affiliated persons, the wealthy and foreign professionals (particularly Caucasians) over locals and migrant workers.”
17. “The prosecution against Li Shengwu is a personal vendetta brought on by the PM to silence his siblings, nephew and associates.”
18. “The Singapore government practises crony capitalism such as awarding contracts, sponsorships and perks based on affiliations to the PAP.”
19. “The People’s Association, NTUC and Singapore Press Holdings are partisan organisations at the beck and call of the PAP.”
20. “The current Malaysian government under PM Mahathir is engaging in acts of provocation against Singapore.”
Your answers will go a long way to clarify what can or cannot be said under the proposed Act.
On the other hand, your inability or refusal to determine the legality of the above statements will signal your intent to wield these powers arbitrarily.