In the wake of POFMA being used, Dr PJ Thum reiterates the lack of evidence that Operation Coldstore about a communist conspirary

Historian Pingtjin Thum once again reiterated his assertion about Operation Coldstore that there was no evidence to show that those detained were involved in any communist conspiracy.

In short Facebook post on 1 December, Dr Thum pointed out that since the government is now using the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), he wanted to make his position on the matter clear.

He wrote: “Now that Singapore’s PAP government is actively using POFMA to go after “fake news”, let me say this one last time so that there can be no uncertainty: There is no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any communist conspiracy to subvert the government of Singapore.”

In November, the government has already invoked POFMA twice in one week. The first was a correction order issued by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat for a Facebook post written by political activist Brad Bowyer. The second, also a correction order, was issued by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugan for a Facebook post by States Times Review. There was also another direction issued directly to Facebook to correct the post made by States Times Review as the editor of the site, Alex Tan, refused to comply with the first order.

Dr Thum, the government and Operation Coldstore

The conversation about Operation Coldstore came to light again this year when Dr Thum appeared before a select committee in March and was questioned extensively by Law and Home Affairs ministers about his interpretation of documents from the Special Branch, the precursor to the Internal Security Department.

The minister kept asserting that Dr Thum’s interpretation was flawed, arguing that the detainees were in fact planning to mount an armed struggle against the government in the 50s and early 60s.

Later, both Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communication and Information Janil Puthucheary – who were members of the select committee – said that Dr Thum had agreed that some of his writings were misleading. In an article published by Straits Times (10 April 2018) written by them, they also said Dr Thum admitted he had no read and sometimes not heard of writings by certain ex-leaders and cadres of the Communist Party of Malaya who were considering an armed struggle as a legitimate option.

However, Dr Thum challenged the committee’s conclusion in a submission in May, clarifying that the main point of his original submission was not addressed in the earlier six-hour discussion. He added that the committee focused on an article he cited on Operation Coldstore instead.

Dr Thum clarified that extracts from certain books presented in the hearings did not have primary sources cited and were not independently verifiable.

He added that “the best evidence” on communism in Singapore would be from the Singapore Special Branch documents, none of which were presenting during the hearing.

He also said, “at no point did I accept that any part of my article was inaccurate or misleading.”

What Dr Thum did concede was that a statement in his paper concerning a telegram from British Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk during Operation Coldstore could have been worded better. The historian acknowledged that while Barisan Sosialis members called for continued peaceful constitutional action in order to achieve power in Singapore in late 1962, they did not explicitly rule out an armed struggle.

Later in his follow-up submission in May, Dr Thum said the argument that Barisan Sosialis unanimously agreed to continue following peaceful constitutional action is accurate based on notes and other documents he cited in his paper. A point he had reiterated during the hearing, said Dr Thum.

In his May submission, Dr Thum also highlighted an error in the transcript of the March hearing which showed that Mr Shanmugam kept referring to a telegram from Lord Selkirk dated 14 December 1962. In fact, Dr Thum noted that Mr Shanmugan had corrected himself and referred to a telegram, numbered 573, dated 11 December 1962 instead.

Dr Thum said, “It is important to clarify exactly which document is being referenced, because (the Dec 11, 1962 telegram) in fact shows that Lord Selkirk was more concerned with the political position of the British vis-à-vis merger and the creation of Malaysia, than with the security issue.

“In other words, his Telegram 573 supports my argument that Operation Coldstore was fundamentally motivated by political, not security, reasons.”

Mr Shanmugan had also said during the hearing that though there were no instructions for violent actions from leaders of the Communist Party of Malaya, that didn’t discount that there was no communist conspiracy at a lower of the organisation. For example, Dr Shanmugam pointed to the Hock Lee bus riots, saying that there may have been certain members of the party who instigated the incident without instructions from above.

To this, Dr Thum again referred to the Special Branch documents, noting how it states that the Hock Lee bus riots were caused by “PAP political manipulation”.

He said, “It emphasised that the PAP was using workers for political gain.”

It remains to be seen if the government will use POFMA on Dr Thum for making” flawed” and “misleading” statements about Operation Coldstore.

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