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Police issue ‘stern warning’ to historian Thum Ping Tjin for unauthorised paid advertisements during GE 2020

The Independent logo The Independent 16/9/2021 Anna Maria Romero
© The Independent Singapore

Singapore — A “stern warning” was issued to Dr Thum Ping Tjin by the police, who said on Wednesday (Sept 15) that unauthorised paid election advertisements were published on the New Naratif during the campaign period of GE 2020.

Dr Thum is the Managing Director of New Naratif, a Southeast Asian socio-political website. He is also the director of Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA), under which New Naratif is published.

“What beautiful timing,” the historian tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. 

Dr Thum wrote this in reference to The Online Citizen’s licence getting suspended on Tuesday (Sept 14) after failing to declare funding.

The Singapore Police Force said in a media release on Sept 15 that investigations had been carried out against Dr Thum “for breaches of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the Singapore General Election 2020 (GE 2020).” 

The release said that a police report had been filed by the Elections Department (ELD) concerning five paid internet election advertisements published through New Naratif during last year’s campaign period “when there was no authorisation to do so.”

The first advertisement was published on Jul 3, 2020, after which a notice was issued to Facebook to remove it.

“ELD released a media statement on the notice on the same day and reminded the public that paid Internet election advertising requires authorisation by a candidate or an election agent from the start of the campaign period,” SPF added in its release.

However, in the days that followed, four additional paid advertisements were published, which led to the filing of the police report.

Dr Thum was interviewed, and his mobile phone and laptop were seized for forensic examination.

“Investigations revealed that the paid advertisements were intended to prejudice the electoral prospects of a political party during GE 2020, which constituted the conduct of election activity under the PEA,” the police wrote.

A stern warning was then issued by the police, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, “in lieu of prosecution for five counts of having consented to OSEA Ltd’s unauthorised conduct of election activity through the paid Internet election advertising in question under Section 83(2) read with Section 108(1)(a) of the PEA on 15 September 2021.”

OSEA has also been given a stern warning.

Since conducting election activity without authorisation is an offence, a person found guilty could be made to pay a fine of up to $2,000, or face jail time of up to 12 months.

SPF also wrote in its release that “According to its Transparency Reports published on the NN website, NN received a grant from the US-based Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) in March 2018. NN also received funding from 1303 members, which include foreign citizens, as of, end of August 2020. /TISG

 

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