This article contains false statements of fact. The Police did not misrepresent the facts of the incident. The Online Citizen (TOC) was previously issued a POFMA Correction Direction on 21 May 2021 for publishing a false statement of fact relating to this incident. TOC appealed to the High Court to set aside the Correction Direction. The High Court found that TOC had published a false statement of fact and dismissed TOC’s appeal. This article again publishes falsehoods relating to the incident.

For the correct facts, click here:

Close to two years ago, the Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, issued a Correction Direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) on TOC’s social media platforms over posts about a member of the public who criticised the handling of an incident with an elderly lady.

The posts were screenshots of a video with captions written by an Instagram user who witnessed an incident on 17 May 2021 involving a few police officers and an elderly lady in Yishun.

Following the post, the Police responded on 19 May 2021 to the TOC posts.

The Police wrote:

“To clarify, the Police had responded to the incident as a 85-year-old woman, who did not have a mask on, appeared to be lost at the said location. Police officers had attended to the elderly woman to help her find her way home. With the help of a member of the public, it was subsequently established that the elderly woman, believed to have dementia, resided in a nearby block, and her domestic helper was contacted to bring her home.”

A POFMA correction direction was also issued on 21 May 2021 by Mr Shanmugam which essentially repeated what the Police had stated.

TOC later shared a video of the incident and what the elderly woman said.

The Police then uploaded snippets of the footage on 25 May 2021 which supported their narrative and stated:

“The BWC footage shows clearly that the Police officer was advising the domestic helper to remind the elderly woman to wear a mask, and was not taunting or reprimanding the elderly woman; and that the officer did buy a packet of food for the elderly woman.”

Mr Shanmugam even went so far as to say that TOC was being “malicious” and “despicable” in the way it “twisted facts” in a video interview with the elderly woman allegedly bullied by the Police.

Both the police and Minister’s statements were widely reported by local media in Singapore which were taken at face value.

After the Minister rejected TOC’s appeal to set aside the Correction Direction, TOC filed an appeal, and the matter was heard in the High Court.

At the initial application stage, the Police refused to share the bodycam footage of the four officers who were present on the scene with the court.

Only after the court indicated that an adverse inference might be drawn upon withholding evidence did the police relent and produce the video footage.

Despite having submitted the footage, the police still chose to redact parts of the footage, which they say did not involve the interaction with the elderly lady.

However, it can be suggested that the removed parts could have shed light on the motivation for the officers approaching the elderly lady in the first place.

In TOC’s argument to the court, we stated that the officers wanted to send the elderly lady back home because she refused to wear her face mask – which was mandatory at that time – and not because she was lost, as claimed by the Police.

It should also be noted that the Police submitted no evidence of the elderly lady’s dementia despite the constant reference to her illness – other than a police report supposedly filed by the elderly lady’s daughter, who claims she has dementia.

From the body-worn camera video footage, we saw that the two police officers who initially interacted with the elderly lady were not present on the scene to assist her, contrary to the police statement and Minister’s claim.

Instead, the footage showed one police officer encountering the elderly lady who was not wearing a face mask and started asking her questions like where she lived and whether she knew that wearing a facemask was mandatory.

The elderly lady knew where she was staying, as she could point in the direction of her flat when asked, as shown in the bodycam footage. She also said she was out for a walk and waiting for her friends.

Around twenty minutes after questioning, two other officers appeared on the scene and again confronted the elderly lady, asking where she lived and whether she knew that it was mandatory to wear a facemask—reminding her multiple times that a fine of S$300 would be imposed for not wearing one.

These statements about the face mask were overheard by passersby, who were spurred to come forward to offer their face masks to the elderly lady.

Another issue raised was whether the Police had bought dinner for the elderly lady. The elderly lady told TOC that the officers did not buy “rice” for her to eat.

The video footage showed that the officer, who bought two chicken wings for the elderly lady, had persistently offered her food, which she eventually accepted.

The police officer who bought the chicken wings had publicly and in his sworn affidavit stated that the officers were called in to assist in a case of a lost elderly.

However, the body-worn camera footage presents a different story, where the officers were trying to send the elderly lady home despite her stating clearly that she was there to sit and wait for her friends, a place she frequented.

The Court did not dispute the submission that the Police were not on the scene to assist the elderly lady, as claimed by the Police in its public statement.

The application was dismissed, as the judge was of the view that the outcome was moot, given that TOC has lost its license to operate its websites and social media accounts.

After viewing the body-worn camera footage, he accepted that the officers were not reprimanding and taunting the woman.

“What was expressed was of concern with the aim of rendering assistance, by getting the elderly lady to put on her mask,” said the judge.

In any case, what the bodycam footage tells us are the following facts:

  1. The police officers were not at the scene to assist a lost elderly woman.
  2. The elderly lady wanted to stay where she was and had already told the police officers that she knew where she was staying.
  3. The police officers wanted to send her back home – arguably because she was reluctant to wear her facemask.
  4. The chicken wings bought were not due to the request of the elderly woman or because she said she was hungry. The elderly woman had repeatedly rejected the offer but eventually relented due to the officer’s persistence.
  5. Passersby were concerned about the presence of four police officers surrounding the elderly lady, which was apparently due to her not wearing a face mask.

So, given the above facts, was it appropriate for the Minister for Home Affairs and Law to issue a Correction Direction on TOC’s social media posts based on the opinions of the passerby who was concerned about how the elderly lady was handled, and for the Police to misrepresent the facts of the incident to the public?

Furthermore, the Singapore media amplified the misrepresentation by the police by reporting without questioning whether what was said was the truth and nothing but the truth.

This leads to another question: if you are framed by a Singapore police officer or being charged due to a false police report, how far would you go to clear your name?

Consider Parti Liyani, a former Indonesian domestic worker who spent four years fighting her case and only won with the support of volunteers and a passionate pro-bono lawyer against the false charges filed against her by her former employer, and Mah Kiat Seng, who fought a lawsuit himself against false imprisonment for over five years due to a false allegation by a police officer, only to be awarded S$20,000 but at the same time ordered to pay S$48,000 for legal costs from the Attorney General’s Chambers.

In fighting for truth in this seemingly insignificant story, TOC spent over S$2,000 just on filing and other miscellaneous expenses – with pro-bono assistance from Singaporean lawyer Lim Tean – and still lost the appeal and its name dragged in the mud by the Minister with the support of Singapore media.

So, would you plead guilty to a false charge against you just to get it over and done with, or take a risk in fighting against a system that has the odds against your favor, only to potentially lose more than if you had kept quiet about the injustice?

This is 5 of 60 articles written for the S$30k fundraising of Terry Xu’s contempt of court fine and cost. To see the full list of the 60 articles, visit this page.

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