Three Singaporean activists who met Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week have called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to look into “highly irresponsible” and “unbecoming” allegations made by MP Seah Kian Peng of the meeting.
According to a Facebook post by journalist Kirsten Han on Wednesday (5 September), she, together with historian Thum Ping Tjin and activist Jolovan Wham, had sent letters of complaints to PM Lee, who is also the Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party, and Charles Chong, chairman of the Select Committee.
The letters, almost identical in content and dated Wednesday, were reproduced in full along with the Facebook post.
“Mr Seah made serious accusations without substantiation. His Facebook post dog-whistled to online trolls and unleashed abusive online harassment — although he’s since called for civility, he has not retracted his claims nor provided evidence, and his allegations continue to provide fodder for personal attacks,” said Han in the Facebook post.
Han also added that the accusations have been “amplified” by the PAP Facebook page, the mainstream media and other members of the PAP and Select Committee, such as Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
In the letter addressed to PM Lee, the trio urged the leader of the PAP to “look into this issue, and take leadership in promoting responsible behaviour among members” of the party.
The trio also called on Chong in a separate letter to “take leadership in promoting responsible behaviour and engaging in evidence-based discussion”.
“We urge the Select Committee to look into the issue, and take into consideration as part of your deliberations on online falsehoods in Singapore,” said the trio.
The trio also highlighted the irony that the members of the Select Committee, namely Seah and Shanmugam, “are themselves making public allegations without adequate substantiation or evidence”.
“In fact, this is one example of the sort of problem that the Select Committee was convened to address,” they added. “This episode also emphasises points previously made that any solution or penalty we ultimately adopt to counter falsehoods should also apply to the government, as states themselves can be a source of misinformation and disinformation.”
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office and Chong for comment.
Background to controversy
In his post referring to Thum’s 30 August meeting with Mahathir, Seah wrote, “Dr Thum invited Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore.”
Seah’s claim appeared to be a wide departure from Thum’s own post on the meeting published on the same day, in which Thum said, “I urged (Mahathir) to take leadership in Southeast Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of information.”
Seah also took issue with Thum’s wishing Singaporeans “a happy unofficial independence day” in a post the latter posted the next day on 31 August, as well as a comment made by former political detainee Teo Soh Lung. Teo had said, “Singapore is part of Malaya la”.
“Really? This is what PJ Thum and Teo Soh Lung and the SDP (Singapore Democratic Party) believe in their heart of hearts?” said Seah.
The MP also commented that it was “interesting” that Han, Wham and graphic novelist Sonny Liew should “associate themselves with Thum”, saying that the latter “does not wish Singapore well”. Liew had also attended the meeting with Mahathir.
Seah’s reference to the SDP prompted a response from the party later that day stating that “Dr Thum and Ms Teo are not members of the SDP thus do not speak for the party or represent us in any way”.
The MP later apologised for his comments. In response, SDP, in its acknowledgement of his apology posted on Facebook on Monday, said that “politicians should not resort to questioning their opponents’ loyalty to our nation”.
“Let us move on and focus our attention on tackling the issues that affect the lives of our fellow citizens,” said the SDP.