The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today reiterated its call on Singapore authorities to stop their harassment of Dr. PJ Thum, an IPI member and managing director of New Naratif, and drop the police case against him.
Dr. Thum was summoned to the police station today and interrogated for three hours during which the police asked him questions regarding the internal structure of New Naratif, the decision-making and content creation processes, and funding. In particular, police were interested in the duties and responsibilities of the managing director, and who else in the organisation had the authority to make decisions.
“The questions were framed around the boosted posts, but they were completely irrelevant to the actual case, because the wording of Parliamentary Elections Act explicitly makes clear that intention is irrelevant as to whether something is elections advertising, and that the Elections Department (Prime Minister’s Office) has fully discretion to decide whether something is elections advertising or not. I declined to answer those questions as they were not relevant to the investigation”, Dr. Thum told IPI.
“I believe the questions to be an attempt to fish for information regarding the internal workings of New Naratif, in order to incorporate the information into the proposed law against ’foreign intervention´. Minister for Law K Shanmugam, in a speech in August 2019, made clear that this law is aimed squarely at two independent media outlets: Online Citizen Asia and New Naratif”, Dr. Thum said. “Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo just this week in Parliament reiterated the PAP government’s intention to pass such a law. Online Citizen Asia Editor-in-Chief Terry Xu, when he was questioned by the police in March 2020, also got questions about the internal workings of his organisation, and he too refused to answer these questions.”
The summons relates to a police investigation against news website for boosting several election-rated stories on Facebook in the run-up to Singapore’s July 2020 general election. Authorities claim the publication amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity.
“This is a clear attempt by Singapore authorities to harass New Naratif and PJ Thum, who is a member of IPI’s global network of editors and journalists”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “It is absurd to accuse New Naratif, which is a respected independent news website, of violating election law by boosting its content on Facebook, which is a common practice by media organizations. This investigation should be dropped without further delay, and Singapore should stop all efforts to hinder the work of independent media.”
In an earlier statement, New Naratif had described the action of the Elections Department as harassment, and a testimony to the government’s track record of arresting, abusing and intimidating critics.
“The PAP (People’s Action Party) lost the argument at the ballot box, and Prime Minister Lee promised humility. Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office is taking revenge against leading critics and independent media. They are repeating tired old tactics by abusing the Parliamentary Elections Act, just like after both the 2015 and 2016 elections when investigations were launched against critics”, New Naratif said in the statement.