On Friday (25 October), an officer from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was charged in court for causing the death of full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai last year.
Captain Ong Lin Jie, 28, was charged with one count of rash act causing death. If found guilty, Ong could be jailed for up to five years or fined, or both. He will return in court on 21 November.
22-year-old CFC Liu died on 3 November 2018 at the Jalan Murai training grounds after a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle that was moving away from stimulated enermy fire reversed into the Land Rover that the full-time national serviceman was driving.
Ong, who was the officer commanding the Land Rover, had apparently failed to maintain a safe distance of 30m between the vehicle and the Bionix. Due to this, the Bionix continued reversing and mounted the driver’s side of the Land Rover, causing the death of CFC Liu, court documents revealed.
Apart from Ong, five other individuals were also charged with wrongful communication of information under the Officials Secrets Act (OSA)for spreading photos of the incident. They were charged for capturing pictures of the accident and leaking it on WhatsApp. The photo shows a Bionix vehicle on top of a Land Rover, with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and an ambulance seen in the background.
Two of them, Muhammad Arif Bin Azman and Mohamad Haikal Bin Mohamad Zainal Abiddin, were serving their National Service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force and were at the scene where they took photographs of the incident and disseminated them via Whatsapp, Singapore Police Force said in a statement.
It added that the other three persons, Brandon Tan Jien Jet, Thng Yu Xuan and Muhammad Zaki Bin Haji Mokhtar, received the photographs, and despite knowing that the photographs were sensitive official information, shared the photographs further without authorisation.
Claims that leaked photos revealed the truth about the accident
HardwareZone forumers in a thread, stated that either the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) or mainstream media had spread falsehoods about the whole incident, claiming that when incident was first reported, mainstream media revealed that it happened early in the morning and low visibility at the area as it was dark. Additionally, it was alleged that news reports also stated that the accident occured at an uneven terrain and the Bionix reversed into the Land Rover.
The forumers wrote that people knew that it was not the truth as the incident did not happen early in the morning as the area was extremely bright. In fact, the place was so bright that even the plate number of the Bionix was visible. And, the Bionix landed on top of the Land Rover.
The forumers also pointed out that once the second picture of the incident was circulated on WhatsApp, it was clear that the track was wide enough for three vehicles to pass through and the surface was flat, contrary to the earlier reporting which stated that the incident happened at an uneven terrain.
As such, the forumers asked if the original fake news was originated from the mainstream media or MINDEF itself.
But, according to the press statement released by MINDEF on the day of the incident itself, it clearly stated that the vehicular accident involving CFC Liu happened at 10.10am.
“PTE Liu was operating a Land Rover, as part of a field training exercise when a Bionix vehicle reversed into the Land Rover. He lost consciousness and was attended to immediately by the on-site medic. The SAF Emergency Ambulance Service and the Singapore Civil Defence Force were activated at 1017hrs and were on-site at 1030hrs. PTE Liu succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead by the medical officers at around 1035hrs,” the statement read.
Reports from the media echoed the same points as there were limited facts revealed by MINDEF. (CNA’s report in 2018)
When the Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen had later stated the circumstances of the incident in his Parliamentary reply on 19 November 2018. He said that the Land Rover driven by CFC Liu was behind a Bionix vehicle which was part of the exercise.
“The Bionix responded to a stimulated enemy encounter to reverse away from stimulated enemy fire. The Bionix reversed into the Land Rover and partially mounted the Land Rover. The trainer was unhurt but CFC Liu sustained injuries,” Dr Ng said.
Therefore, there has apparently been no mention of poor visibility or uneven terrain in the statements made about CFC Liu’s accident. So forumers’ claim that MSM or MINDEF generated “fake news” is unsubstantiated.
What was so classified about the leaked photos?
Under the section 5(1)(iv) of OSA which the five is charged with, if any person having in his possession or control any secret official code word, countersign or password, or any photograph, drawing, plan, model, article, note, document or information which relates to or is used in a prohibited place or anything in such a place fails to take reasonable care of, or so conducts himself as to endanger the safety or secrecy of, any such information or thing as aforesaid, is guilty of an offence.
The penalty for the offence that the five is facing, is a fine not exceeding $2,000 and to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.
While OSA is meant to protect the national interest, particularly when it comes to military secrets. We do have to ask ourselves on what was exactly classified in the photos taken by the five individuals.
Both the landrover and the Bionix are not classified vehicles, and it is common knowledge that SAF possesses the two vehicles. While the accident site is a prohibited area, but the photos do not seem to contain any info such as routing, not to mention that it is just a road within a training ground for troops.
Photos helped the public to visualise the accident
If we look at all the past incidents, we can hardly observe any pictorial information of the actual accidents being revealed by the various Committees of Inquiry (COI). In the case of Liu Kai’s accident, all that was shown were illustrations of how the accident transpired.
So in a way, the photos leaked by the 5 servicemen of the actual scene, allowed the public to accurately understand the scenario in which the event took place.
Without the pictures, the public would have to rely on pure wordings of MINDEF and their imagination of what had been the environment in which the accident took place.