The written submission by academic Thum Ping Tjin to a committee contained “serious allegations” about the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew regarding Operation Coldstore, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (2 April).
In a post on his Facebook page, Shanmugam explained why he had spent “some time” in asking Thum questions on his submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. Shanmugam said Thum had asserted that Lee was “the biggest creator of fake news in Singapore” and “a liar” and that Operation Coldstore, which took place on 2 February 1963, was based on falsehoods.
“Either they have to be accepted, or shown to be untrue. Keeping quiet about them was not an option,” said Shanmugam on his exchange with Thum in Parliament last Thursday (29 March). The exchange, which lasted almost six hours, centred on Thum’s research on Coldstore.
The government has consistently maintained over the decades that Coldstore, which saw the arrests of more than 100 people including senior leaders of opposition party Barisan Sosialis, was a critical security operation that was needed to save Singapore from the threat of communism.
But a number of researchers, including Thum, have stated the operation was politically motivated to stop Barisan Sosialis from taking power in the general election scheduled later that year. The potential threat posed by Barisan Sosialis – formed by a breakaway faction of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) – and others to overthrow the PAP government through an armed struggle was fabricated by Lee and his fellow ministers, they said.
Thum said in his submission, “Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state. Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie.”
Shanmugam said Thum admitted that the academic had not read some of the materials published by ex-communists on what happened in Singapore and that he disregarded the statements made by Chin Peng, the leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), among other things.
“People know me – I am direct, I deal with the facts, and say it as I think it is,” Shanmugam added.
Thum said, however, that Chin Peng was an unreliable source who did not exert a huge influence on Singapore as CPM did not have a “significant enough presence in Singapore at that time”. He also defended his research into Coldstore, saying that it had been subjected to a peer review and that “no historian has come out and contradicted the central thrust” of his work.
Turning to a Facebook post published by award-winning comic artist Sonny Liew on his exchange with Thum, Shanmugam said he can understand Liew was not happy with what had happened in Parliament. He noted that Liew’s award-winning “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” book was based on Thum’s “version of history”.
“I have not met Sonny, but I have to say he is a good cartoonist. He is a talent,” said Shanmugam.
Liew also responded to the minister’s post to clarify on the research materials that he had used for his book, for which he won in three categories of the Eisner Award, the comic industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.
“The book of course references his (Thum’s) writings, but is also based on a wider range of reading and consultation with texts and interviews across what spectrum I was able to research in my limited capacity,” said Liew on Shanmugam’s Facebook page.
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