SINGAPORE — In an authoritative move, the Minister for Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, has directed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office to issue a Correction Direction to the Asia Sentinel, an online publication covering Asian regional news, business, arts and culture.

As per this directive, the Asia Sentinel is obligated to display a correction notice alongside its controversial article in question.

The article “Singapore kills a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys”, penned by the editor John Berthelsen, featured an interview with Andy Wong Min Jun, known for his critical commentary on Singapore’s approach towards managing KTV lounges during the COVID-19 crisis in 2021 that Nikkei Asia published on 23 July 2021.

Berthelsen’s narrative suggested that the fallout of the article led Wong to be “forced into exile”.

The article contained Wong’s description of his ordeal which he emailed to Asia Sentinel,

“I was just a normal Singapore citizen who had multiple career tracks spanning corporate services, port logistics, analyst work, and freelance journalism,”

“Up till July 2021 I was also gainfully employed in business/political risk advisory in Singapore under a British boss, from which I’ve since had my ties severed due to significant compromising and blowback from my ongoing political persecution.”

The article further drew a parallel between Wong’s experience and the situations faced by human rights lawyer M Ravi and Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The article also details Wong’s recollection of events that followed the publication of the Nikkei article, where Singapore police reactivated dormant pornography possession charges against Wong.

He faced a total of 11 charges, and three were proceeded upon for maximum possible punishment. Wong claimed a targeted character assassination by the state media increased as he attended court. He asserts that the government intended to discredit him through these charges, unlinked to his critical article.

Despite facing social media harassment and misrepresentation, the attorney general’s office clarified it would only seek fines, not jail time, for Wong’s offenses. Wong, however, felt publicly and professionally silenced, as he believed the police and attorney general’s chambers obfuscated his attempts to clarify his case.

MHA denies claims made in Asia Sentinel article

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), however, took serious exception to the article, stating it contained multiple factual inaccuracies.

It categorically denied the claim made by Asia Sentinel that the Singapore Government had threatened to shut down Nikkei Inc.’s business operations in Singapore following the publication of Wong’s commentary.

The MHA affirmed that it had only offered a rebuttal to the inaccuracies presented in the Nikkei Asia article, which was subsequently published as a letter to the editor on Nikkei Asia. At no juncture was there any threat posed to the operations of Nikkei Inc, said MHA.

The MHA also rebutted the assertio n that Mr Ravi was barred from practising law for a period of five years as a result of his criticism of the Government. Instead, the ministry stated that his suspension was due to serious allegations made by him that were found to recklessly and baselessly undermine the pillars of Singapore’s legal system, posing a potential risk to public confidence in the legal profession and the administration of justice in the nation.

MHA cites the example of Mr Ravi accusing the Prosecution of being “overzealous in his
prosecution and that has led to the death sentence [in Gobi’s case]”.

Gobi Avedian, a then 32 Malaysian, was saved from the gallows due to Mr Ravi’s last-minute application. This application led the Court of Appeal to set aside Gobi’s death sentence on 19 October 2020, citing a miscarriage of justice.

Moreover, the ministry argues that Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern did not leave Singapore under government duress due to their conflict with Lee Hsien Loong. MHA says that the two left of their own accord following a police investigation into potential offences related to providing false evidence in judicial proceedings and that this investigation was separate and distinct from their familial dispute with Lee Hsien Loong.

Strong rebuttal from MHA and Shanmugam in 2021

Wong’s 2021 opinion piece, claimed that Singapore’s KTV lounges served as fronts for illegal brothels and money laundering and questioned the government’s oversight of such businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wong also accused the government of a lack of transparency regarding these premises’ conversion into bistros and the influx of foreign sex workers under the Familial Ties Lane (FTL) scheme.

In response, Sam Tee, a senior director from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), labelled Wong’s allegations as “full of inaccuracies,” arguing that Singapore’s laws against organized crime, money laundering, and human trafficking made such operations unlikely to run. He added that regular police enforcement had inspected nearly 3,000 nightlife outlets and over 1,000 arrests from 2018 to 2020.

Tee refuted Wong’s claim that KTVs reopened “without explanation,” highlighting that the government had explained in Parliament their reopening as food and beverage outlets. Tee also countered Wong’s allegations about the FTL scheme, noting the police and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority had justified its introduction and removal.

Mr Shanmugam further criticized Wong’s piece, calling it “a work of fiction” filled with “several falsehoods.” He noted that Wong was charged for possessing and transmitting obscene materials in a Telegram chat group, hinting at possible motives for his criticism.

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