The Ministry of Law (MOL) released a guide to explain on how the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) will apply by providing examples to illustrate the difference between a statement of opinion and a false statement of fact.
Historian Dr PJ Thum made an observation on his Facebook page that one of the examples provided was of a ‘hypothetical’ history research who made statements on Operation Coldstore – very similar to PJ Thum himself who had done research on the Operation and was grilled for six hours on the statements he had made about it during the select committee hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods by Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
During the hearing, Dr Thum was subjected to a lengthy cross-examination by Mr Shanmugam who decided to focus on a section of the historian’s submission which stated “Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state. Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie.”
The entire 6-hour session saw the Minister trying to debunk Dr Thum’s statement by asking for only ‘yes or no’ responses and not giving the historian leeway to elaborate on his answers.
In MOL’s POFMA guideline, here’s one example of they say is a statement of opinion in terms of “Academic/field research”:
But the guidelines later adds:
While no names are mentioned, the example is eerily similar to events in real life. In his Facebook post, Dr Thum remarked: “It’s a real honour to know that your government is aiming authoritarian legislation squarely at you specifically.”
He continued, “I state again: it is a fact that there is no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were part of a communist conspiracy to subvert the state.”