New Naratif founder says police have seized his laptop, phone

At left, New Naratif founder Thum Ping Tjin outside Clementi Police Station today, while the police reportedly confiscate his laptop at his home, at right. Photos: New Naratif/Facebook, Twitter
At left, New Naratif founder Thum Ping Tjin outside Clementi Police Station today, while the police reportedly confiscate his laptop at his home, at right. Photos: New Naratif/Facebook, Twitter

The founder of an independent news outlet said that police searched his home today and seized his laptop and mobile phone after he appeared for questioning over its Facebook advertising.

Thum Ping Tjin confirmed Monday afternoon that officers took his phone and computer after New Naratif published a photo it said showed them doing so at about 3pm, not long after he appeared at a local police station over a complaint filed by elections officials over five paid Facebook ads. The Elections Department deemed the ads, posted during the recent election,  to be “election activity” and said they were placed without the written authority of a candidate or elections agent as required by law. 

This morning, Thum Ping Tjin described the accusations as “ludicrous” in a morning tweet outside the Clementi Police Station.

“This is ludicrous of course and it’s a thinly veiled attempt at harassment and intimidation against New Naratif so we urge the Singapore government to withdraw this police report,” he said

According to New Naratif’s Facebook page, it removed the five paid posts, which touched on the government’s “lack of transparency and accountability,” the ruling People’s Action Party’s “destructive” politics, racial discrimination, and how the “fake news law” was used extensively in the run-up to the election.

It spent US$341 to advertise on the platform in the past 12 months, according to Facebook.

One of the ads was a satirical clip targeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the face of a new cologne called “discretion.”

The advertisements were all paid by New Naratif and ran June 26 to July 9 during campaigning for the July 10 vote.

New Naratif was founded in 2017 to promote open societies throughout Southeast Asia. It relies on a subscriber-funded model that has come in for attack as amounting to “foreign ownership” because some of its supporters live abroad.

Elections officials said Friday that Facebook complied with takedown notices for three of New Naratif’s posts in early July, just before the election. 

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, election activity is broadly defined to be anything that might sway the vote for anyone’s benefit or hindrance.

New Naratif noted that vagueness in its Saturday response to the accusations.

“Singaporean laws are written so broadly as to effectively make a huge swath of legitimate political activity illegal without a permit,” it said, calling out the government for harassment.

“We condemn the abuse of the law to harass independent media and critics. We denounce the lack of independence of the Singapore Elections Department. We urge Singapore’s government to make Singapore’s elections free and fair, and adopt the recommendations proposed by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights,” its statement read. 

If convicted, Thum faces a S$2,000 fine and 12 months in jail. 

New Naratif is no stranger to disputes with the Singapore government. It’s registration as a company has been refused on the grounds that it would go against national interests. Law Minister K Shanmugam had questioned its motivations and funding in a speech about foreign interference in Singapore. New Naratif has twice been ordered to issue “corrections” under Singapore’s so-called fake news law. 

The media outlet maintains that it is “primarily funded by membership fees but is “happy to accept donations, grants, and any other source of funding” that allows it editorial independence.

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CITY: SINGAPORECATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: CRIME, POLITICS

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