Police probe duo who allegedly incited Telegram group to overwhelm COVID-19 hotlines
SINGAPORE — Police are investigating a 48-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman for their alleged involvement in instigating others to call and overwhelm public hotlines that help the public with COVID-19 issues.
In a media release on Thursday (25 November), police said that they received a report on 18 October alleging that the duo had incited more than 2,000 members in a Telegram group to overwhelm public hotlines through sharing their feedback on the stricter COVID-19 measures for unvaccinated people in public places.
These public hotlines include the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) quality service/feedback hotline, the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) hotline and the National CARE Hotline.
The Telegram message purportedly claimed that the government was seeking “nationwide ground feedback on the new measures”, and that the public should call in to the public hotlines and demand that their feedback gets pushed up to the respective call centre managers.
The members were also encouraged to call the hotlines again the following day, to seek feedback on the calls they had made earlier.
"These public hotlines are important channels for Singaporeans to seek help, and a surge in needless and malicious calls will lengthen waiting times and frustrate genuine callers. In some cases, such calls may also prevent those in need from receiving timely critical assistance," police said in the media release.
"As the alleged incitement to overwhelm public hotlines has the potential to obstruct the work of public servants, the police, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Chambers, are investigating the man and the woman for an alleged offence of abetment by instigation of persons to obstruct public servants in the discharge of their public functions under Section 186, read with Section 117 of the Penal Code."
The offence of obstructing public servants in the discharge of their public functions, carries punishment of up to three months' jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
The offence of abetting the commission of such an offence by the public generally, or by any number or class of persons exceeding 10, carries punishment of up to five years' jail and/or a fine.
While the police did not name the duo, a check by Yahoo News Singapore on the Telegram channel of Healing the Divide - a group that purportedly brings together Singaporeans concerned about COVID-19 vaccines - found an announcement on 11 October to call the three hotlines.
The group - whose founders are Iris Koh and her husband Raymond Ng - had sued media giant Singapore Press Holdings earlier this month for making false statements of fact in a COVID-19 commentary by published by The Straits Times.
On Wednesday evening, Koh wrote on the Telegram channel to say that she would be going to the Bedok police station at 10.30am on Thursday morning to be investigated.
She updated the channel again after her investigation on Thursday, saying, "They were investigating me for the ‘flooding’ comment. They wanted to take my phone. I said they would need to go through my lawyer to take anything.”
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