One of the most recent public figures to chime in on the People’s Association (PA) Hari Raya standee fiasco is People’s Action Party (PAP) politician Shamsul Kamar who shared a Facebook post on Thursday (17 June) which suggests that communication specialist Sarah Bagharib was a volunteer for the Workers’ Party (WP).
Ms Sarah was pulled into the spotlight when her wedding photo was used without permission as a prop in PA’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri display at an HDB estate in Tiong Bahru. The PA had removed the standee and offered a public apology after Ms Sarah talked about it on social media.
However, the organisation later rejected her “accusations” of racism, branding the incident as “culturally insensitive” instead and an “isolated case”.
The post that Mr Shamsul shared was original posted by the Facebook page Fabrications about the PAP. It includes a photo of Ms Sarah next to one of the same photo with a face mask added to it. Below are two photos of three people in WP shirts and masks, implying that Ms Sarah is the same person in the WP photos.
Mr Shamsul’s caption read: “For all to decide… Everything happens for a reason but let’s not be divisive”.
The post by the PAP politician was made private on Thursday evening, then made public on Friday morning with comments removed and then once again, made private in the afternoon.
It has been confirmed by Ms Sarah and the other lady in the bottom photo that they are not the same person.
The woman in question had reached out to Mr Shamsul via Instagram to verify her identity, sending a photograph of herself via the Direct Messages function as proof instead of sending one uploaded from her phone’s photo gallery.
Requesting to be anonymous, the lady had asked Mr Shamsul to issue a correction or clarification stating that Ms Sarah is not the person in the WP group photographs, and that any insinuations he had made through sharing the post are false or are likely to mislead others.
She also asked Mr Shamsul to apologise to her and Ms Sarah for spreading the post.
The woman who was wrongly identified is also said to be a Chinese lady.
Commenting on the post, Singaporeans poet and writer Alfian Sa’at said on his Facebook page that the photo collage “isn’t just character assassination, it’s outright libel”.
He added, “If they are not as depraved as they now appear to everyone, both FAP and Shamsul must apologise immediately and unreservedly.”
Journalist Kirsten Han also took to Facebook to call out Mr Shamsul’s sharing of the post as “shameful” and that it is his actions of sharing “disinformation coming from a known pro-PAP troll page” to imply that Ms Sarah’s was not acting in good faith but had an underlying political agenda is what is truly divisive.
Both Mr Alfian and Ms Han pointed out that even if Ms Sarah was a WP volunteer – which she isn’t – it shouldn’t matter.
Ms Han questioned, “Is Shamsul Kamar telling Singaporeans to think that everything an opposition party supporter does is in bad faith? Is he insinuating that opposition parties are not valid stakeholders in Singapore? ”
“This sort of bad-faith politicisation is what hurts Singaporean discourse and democracy,” she added.
Mr Alfian asked: “Isn’t the PA supposed to serve all Singaporeans? Are these people suggesting that the PA is equivalent to the PAP?”
Netizens on both Ms Han’s and Mr Alfian’s posts appear to share the same sentiments. A couple of people called it out as being “shameful”.
Many suggested that Ms Sarah should sue either FAP or Mr Shamsul or both, others said the other women in the photo should sue them as well for libel.
Others wondered if POFMA would be invoked in this situation given the disinformation and “fake news” being spread about Ms Sarah.
One person noted her “disgust”, and how different things would be if the situation were reversed. She also commented that it is a “sad day” for Singapore when a person who tried to discuss the issue of racial inequality is branded as having a political agenda.
One person pointed out the disgraceful antics of the whole situation, particularly the way in which people in power are using their power to “slander” an ordinary citizen, adding that this shows how “intolerant and vicious the Singapore gov’t can be to any citizen whom they think poses a threat to their hegemony and political power”.
Another person described the whole thing as “calculated and evil”, by subtly suggesting something in order to deny any responsibility.
Another netizen pointed out how the government and the majority are quick to reject an action as racist if they do not see it as clearly racist, and how this results in minorities self-censoring and accepting these bad behaviours as the norm.
A couple of people also echoed Ms Han’s and Mr Alfian’s points that it shouldn’t matter if Ms Sarah is a WP volunteer since the key point is that the PA used her photo without her permission, and that the PA should be non-partisan anyway.