On Friday (19 May), Mrs Josephine Teo, the Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs, instructed the POFMA Office to issue Correction Directions for the below posts:
- Kirsten Han’s Facebook posts on 19 April 2023 and 22 April 2023;
- Han’s “We the Citizens” article published on 19 April 2023;
- Han’s Twitter post on 19 April 2023;
- Transformative Justice Collective’s Facebook post on 23 April;
- M Ravi’s Facebook posts on 20 April 2023 and 27 April 2023;
- The Online Citizen Asia’s article published on its website on 28 April 2023 ;
- TOCA’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter posts on 28 April 2023; and
- Andrew Loh’s Facebook post on 24 April 2023.
These posts pertain to a 46-year-old Singaporean Tamil, Tangaraju S/O Suppiah who was executed by the Singapore Government on 26 April over an alleged conspiracy to smuggle one kilogram of cannabis.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a press release that the social media posts and articles contained “false statements” about the capital sentence that was given to Tangaraju, including being denied an interpreter during the recording of his statement and that he was later found to be not guilty.
Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), these entities and individuals are required to carry a correction notice alongside their publications. Failure to do so will result in them being deemed to have committed an arrestable offense, which carries a fine not exceeding $20,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.
The need for speed in dealing with “online falsehoods”
During the debate to pass the POFMA bill in 2019, the People’s Action Party Members of Parliament were against the suggestion from the Workers’ Party that the Courts should be the decision-makers for deliberate online falsehoods.
During an exchange, then-Senior Minister of State for Law, Mr Edwin Tong had an exchange with Mr Pritam Singh, Secretary-General of Workers’ Party and MP for Aljunied GRC.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: Yes, Mr Speaker, I have a clarification for Mr Singh. He quoted me earlier in my speech in the POHA debate. Would Mr Singh accept that, while I said that the Courts can try, I went on to say that it would be very difficult and I went on to explain also that in the context of this kind of cases, it would be extremely difficult for a Court to have a proper marshaling of the details and the facts and to decide on the case. I went on to explain all of that.
Mr Pritam Singh: Mr Speaker, I can confirm that there was an additional explanation to that initial comment.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: In the terms that I have just set out?
Mr Pritam Singh: Yes. The point I think that needs to be made here with regard to the use of the Courts is that, with an expedited procedure – which the Senior Minister of State also confirmed under POHA, simple claims form – there is room, in my belief, that the Courts can still represent a decision-making authority which can act speedily.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: The point that Mr Singh is trying to put across is that the Courts can do so in a matter of – and, I think, to say, in your words – five to six hours. And I have explained earlier that whilst the Courts can try, it will be very difficult to do so, especially having regard to the fact that they will have to access the merits of the matter. And it is not possible to bring the case within that period of time.
Mr Pritam Singh: Mr Speaker, I can accept the Senior Minister of State’s position on that. But philosophically, I have a different view as to who the appropriate decision maker is. And it is my belief that we should try and see how the Courts can deal with these falsehoods as quickly as possible.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: That may be Mr Singh’s philosophical position. But he was trying to quote my speech to make that point. I do not think that is accurate.
Using the example of the POFMA corrections directions issued by Mrs Teo on posts that go up to a month back instead of Mr Tong’s example of five to six hours, surely the Court could have been able to come to a decision within this period of time?