People’s Action Party (PAP) politician Shamsul Kamar on Thursday (17 June) became one of the most recent public figures to chime in regarding the People’s Association (PA) standee fiasco after he shared on Facebook an image which suggested that communications specialist Sarah Bagharib had volunteered for the Workers’ Party (WP).
Ms Sarah was thrust under the public eye after her wedding photograph was used as a prop in PA’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri display at an HDB estate in Tiong Bahru.
While the standee was subsequently removed and the PA offered her a public apology, the organisation later said it rejects Ms Sarah’s “accusations” of racism, branding the incident “culturally insensitive” and an “isolated case”.
Mr Shamsul wrote in his Facebook share: “For all to decide… Everything happens for a reason but let’s not be divisive.”
Nanyang Technological University professor Walid J. Abdullah, who recently interviewed Ms Sarah on the PA saga, questioned if Mr Shamsul had verified that the volunteer being pinpointed is actually Ms Sarah.
“Because that doesn’t really look like here (sic),” he said.
Mr Shamsul’s post soon was met with an onslaught of comments criticising him for sharing a post without verifying whether the content is accurate.
One person, who claims to be Ms Sarah’s classmate or former classmate, said that Ms Sarah is not the lady in the WP group photographs.
Several commenters raised the issue of whether Mr Shamsul’s Facebook share, coupled with his commentary, can be classified as a form of doxxing under Protection from Harassment Act and disseminating online falsehoods under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.
There were also commenters who urged Ms Sarah to sue FAP and Mr Shamsul for defamation.
“sue him until his pants drop, and claim $133k worth of damages,” said one commenter, referencing the damages awarded by the court to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his libel suit against veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian.
TOC understands that Mr Shamsul had set the post to ‘Friends Only’ after the backlash before deleting the above comments and making the post public again.
However, the following new comments surfaced after he made his post public again as of Friday morning at 10.55 am.
Ms Sarah has confirmed that she is not the lady depicted in the group photograph of WP volunteers.
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.
PA referenced her interview with Assistant Professor Walid, claiming that Ms Sarah mentioned that the incident has perpetuated a culture of racism.
“It is not right to raise the allegation of racism, without basis, to stoke emotions and sentiments,” said PA.
The organisation claimed that it had explained to Ms Sarah that while it acknowledges that its staff “should have been more culturally sensitive”, it is not right to paint “sweeping conclusions from this incident”.
Doubling down on its point that Ms Sarah’s case was an isolated one, PA said that it finds Ms Sarah’s public call for messages or suggestions that they would like to have relayed to the organisation in their meeting an “odd” one.
“We do not see why our meeting should be appropriated as a platform for her to funnel the views and comments of persons unrelated to the incident,” said PA, adding that it is of the view that Ms Sarah’s purpose in agreeing to meet its representatives “has gone far beyond the Radin Mas incident”.
PA said that it will not be following through with the meeting as there is “no point” in doing so, in light of the above.
“We agree it is important for our staff and volunteers to be sensitive to and knowledgeable about the cultures of all our ethnic groups. We are now looking at establishing a resource panel to guide and advise our staff on cultural matters. We will also step up training efforts to enhance staff and volunteers’ understanding and appreciation of our different cultures,” it added.
PA also claimed that Ms Sarah’s 1 June email had falsely alleged that it was “hasty in sharing the name of the vendor” in order to “distance and deflect blame” from itself.
“The vendor had identified himself directly to Ms Sarah on 28 May, and apologised. This was before PA issued our statement on 29 May,” it said.
“It is regrettable that Ms Sarah did not clarify this point during her Instagram Live interview with Mr Walid J. Abdullah on 7 June. Instead she persisted in conveying the impression that PA had deflected blame from itself,” PA added.
The short length of the quotes attached by PA in its follow-up post, said playwright Alfian Sa’at, was suspicious, as “to build a case against someone it is always important to be able to reproduce what they said in full”.
“Scanning through PA’s statement, one would be forgiven if one thought that Ms Sarah was the one who made the claim that what PA did “perpetuate[d] [a] racist culture”. But she was actually sharing something someone else had written,” he noted.
Image shared by Shamsul Kamar posted by pro-PAP page that was previously taken down for violation of Facebook’s policies
The collage shared by Mr Shamsul, labelled “Make Your Vote Count!” in reference to WP’s election slogan last year, was originally posted by Fabrications About The PAP (FAP) several hours before the politician shared it.
The top panel showed two photographs of Ms Sarah, one without a surgical face mask and the other with such a mask superimposed on her face.
The bottom panel showed two photographs of several WP volunteers. FAP had appeared to draw attention to similarities between the physical features of one of the volunteers and Ms Sarah.
FAP’s post also remains on its page, with users calling out the error speaking about being blocked or having their comments deleted.
The only adjustment made by FAP is replacing the top-panel images with new ones after The Everyday People of Singapore raised the issue of copyright infringement. Both of the replacement photographs used by FAP appear to be the same image.
FAP, previously reported as run by Chua Chin Seng, is a well-known pro-PAP Facebook page with a wide following, garnering over 250,000 likes at one point.
In 2017, Mr Chua was issued a warning by the police for breaching the Cooling-Off Day rules during the Bukit Batok by-election in 2016.
A spokesperson from Facebook said that Facebook has taken action against several accounts in Singapore for violating its policies.
“These accounts were discovered during our on-going proactive work to find and take action against accounts that violate our policies. This action is based on the behaviour of these accounts, not based on the content they posted,” the spokesperson added.
Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, Clara Koh said earlier that several teams have been set up since July 2019 dedicated to monitoring “coordinated” or “inauthentic behaviour” on the platform in relation to Singapore’s elections.
Previous reported controversies involving Shamsul Kamar
Mr Shamsul, who acts as the grassroots adviser (GRA) for the Kaki Bukit ward in Aljunied GRC, was part of the PAP team that lost the constituency to WP in the general election on 10 July last year.
A National Day event posted by the Kaki Bukit community organisation on its Facebook page received public backlash after netizens noticed that Mr Shamsul was made the guest of honour instead of the WP MPs who were elected.
Mr Shamsul was also previously criticised for allegedly attempting to lure voters using free Texas Chicken meals during the election campaign period last year.
Facebook page “Say NO to PAP” wrote on 30 June last year that the votes of Aljunied GRC residents “cost only 2 pieces of Texas Fried Chicken to buy over”.
“Whose money is he spending to bribe you? Otherwise what do they get in return for the political sponsorship? What kind of a teacher is he who brings such education to your children? Shamsul so shameful,” the page added.
Mr Shamsul explained the next day that the allegations pertained to a photo of a leaflet on a food distribution event originally slated to be held on the Saturday the same week.
“It is unfortunate that there were allegations by netizens that I am only helping the Malay community and that I am luring people to vote by providing them with free food.
“I would like to state that these allegations are untrue,” he said.
Mr Shamsul highlighted that PAP has “regularly worked with various stakeholders, private companies and Non-Profit Organisations to assist all residents of Kaki Bukit regardless of race, language or religion” over the course of the past five years.
“On certain occasions, these organisations have specific groups of people they would like to help. For example, some may want to focus on helping the elderly, low-income families or single mothers. We welcome all the help we can get when it comes to our residents,” he added.
Noting that the event was planned even before this coming general election was announced, Mr Shamsul said that in this particular instance, “the organisation wanted to focus on the lower-income, Malay-Muslim families”.
“Our community leaders from the Malay Activity Executive Committee (MAEC) believed that this is a good initiative to help those in need,” he said.
In a recent update, Mr Shamsul told Mothership in response to queries that when he shared the FAP post on his Facebook feed on 17 June, he “did not (mention) that it was Sarah nor anyone else”, adding that “it didn’t cross my mind to do so”.
“I’m sorry that it seems many misunderstood my key intention of sending the message to everyone that we need to stand united rather than divisive especially during this period of the pandemic,” he said.
Mr Shamsul said that he has consistently advocated such a message through his Facebook post, especially on his public page.
“That’s what the shared post was about,” he said.