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Police seize Thum Ping Tjin’s mobile devices, probe New Naratif over alleged paid ads published during GE2020

·Editorial team
·3-min read
(SCREENSHOT: New Naratif/Facebook)
(SCREENSHOT: New Naratif/Facebook)

Updated with New Naratif’s response

SINGAPORE — A police report has been filed by the Assistant Returning Officer against socio-political site New Naratif for allegedly publishing paid advertisements during the recent General Election.

The Elections Department (ELD) said on Friday (18 September) that the alleged actions taken by the New Naratif amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Three notices were issued by the Assistant Returning Officer – who assists in overseeing the election – to Facebook on 3 July and 7-8 July to remove five unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.

“Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or his election agent,” said the ELD.

This includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates.

It also includes prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election.

“Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity,” it added.

The ELD said that after the first takedown was issued to Facebook on 3 July, it had also released a media statement that New Naratif was deemed to be conducting election activity for placing paid internet election advertising and that it had not been authorised to do so.

The media statement, which was carried by various media outlets, had also reminded the public of the regulations.

The ELD pointed out that despite the reminder, New Naratif on 4 July publicised the takedown decision and continued to publish other paid advertisements.

In response to Yahoo News Singapore’s queries, New Naratif founder and managing director Dr Thum Ping Tjin on Saturday said that the company “condemns” the police report “as a politically motivated attack on freedom of expression”.

“(The government is) repeating tired old tactics by abusing the Parliamentary Elections Act, just like after both the 2015 and 2016 elections when investigations were launched against critics,” said Dr Thum.

“We urge the Singapore government to drop its long-standing campaign of harassment against New Naratif.”

Dr Thum on Monday claimed on Facebook that he was interrogated for four-and-a-half hours by the police, who also seized his handphone and laptop.

Conducting election activity without authorisation by a candidate or his election agent from the start of the campaign period is an offence under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Any person convicted of such offence may be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for up to 12 months.

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