Southeast Asian journalism platform New Naratif has urged the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to cease its “politically-motivated” attacks against freedom of expression, in view of the police’s “continued harassment” of its managing director Thum Ping Tjin over alleged violation of election laws.
Dr Thum had been summoned by the police for questioning for the second time in less than six months on Friday (5 Mar) over alleged ‘unauthorised election advertising’ involving five Facebook posts related to the recent General Election, which were boosted by New Naratif in July last year.
The Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) of the 2020 GE had filed a police report on the grounds that the paid advertisement published by New Naratif amounted to “illegal conduct of election activity” under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA).
Under the PEA, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or their election agent.
“Election activity” includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates.
It also covers prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates during the election.
Any person convicted of an offence under PEA may be liable to a fine of up to S$2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months.
The ARO had issued three notices to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July, and 8 July 2020 to remove five unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.
Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity, said ELD.
Dr Thum’s residence was raided on 21 Sep last year, during which his laptop was seized as evidence. He was also subject to a four-and-a-half-hour interview with the police. His phone had been seized earlier by the police.
New Naratif in its statement on Friday questioned “the necessity of interrogating Dr. Thum and seizing his laptop and phone as all evidence needed to investigate this matter can be found online”.
“The continued harassment of Dr. Thum is an intimidation tactic with the intention to silence criticism and alternative voices in Singapore,” it added.
New Naratif also pointed out that “election-related activity” is broadly defined in the PEA.
As a result, the broad scope “has been repeatedly misused to target the media outlet for being vocal and critical in its reporting on the ruling party”, said New Naratif.
On the other hand, other organisations, including Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which is partly owned by the government, also boosted posts with elections-related content but did not face any government action, it noted.
A total of 240 elections-related posts were found to have been boosted by AsiaOne — which is partly owned by SPH — between 30 June to 11 July last year. 150 were directly related to the elections, according to searches conducted on Facebook’s Ad Library.
The search result on Ad Library indicated that AsiaOne had spent S$11,512 on ads related to social issues, elections or politics between 27 Sep 2019 to 22 Sep last year.
Ahead of Dr Thum’s questioning today, FORUM-ASIA in a statement urged the Government to “end its intimidation against independent media”.
ELD, said FORUM-ASIA, should withdraw its police report against New Naratif.
The Government, it added, should repeal repressive laws such as the Parliamentary Actions Act.
“The long-standing campaign of intimidation and harassment against New Naratif demonstrates how the fundamental right to seek and disseminate information is under attack,” said FORUM-ASIA.