#33: In which the prime minister sues a citizen for sharing a Facebook post

Thanks to all who partcipated in the caption contest! As promised, I’ve put my favourite entries at the end of this issue.

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Online freedom

Hot on the heels of the defamation cases we’ve seen in the past weeks, we have the news that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is personally suing Leong Sze Hian, a financial advisor and former president of human rights NGO Maruah, for sharing The Coverage’s article on Facebook. I looked the hoo-ha over The Coverage’s piece—which was actually the States Times Review’s piece—in issue #29, and also summed it up in this story for Asia Times.

It’s not exactly contentious to say that STR is lax about the facts (and that’s putting it mildly), and the Monetary Authority of Singapore has reported the publication for defamation, but the thing about suing Leong is that he was far from the only one who shared the article on Facebook. In fact, the article had gone viral, which means tons of people shared it. How many of them is Lee suing? Is he only suing Leong—if so, why? Is this an indication of things to come, that even sharing a piece that turns out to be false on Facebook could get on into trouble? How do we determine intention in such a case? Do we then start suing and investigating and prosecuting every gullible person out there who’s shared something that turned out to be wrong?

Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the leader of the Reform Party, wrote an open letter to Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner, to point out the problem of having Singaporean parliamentarians participate at the International Grand Committee on Fake News and Disinformation at the UK Parliament. He doesn’t end with the most vote-winning conclusion, but points out that terms used by Edwin Tong—such as talking about content that’s “seditious or incite hatred”, or advocating for “strong, quick levers” to deal with “fake news”—might sound reasonable to others in more liberal democracies, but are very problematic when taking the Singaporean context into account.

“Not within my pay grade”

The Straits Times hosted a panel about the minimum wage in Singapore, or lack thereof (paywall). It was during an exchange on the Progressive Wage Model, with Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh arguing that it needs to be a universal minimum wage as covering select sectors isn’t good enough, that Zainal bin Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress and PAP Member of Parliament, quipped that it was “not within his pay grade”. The union leader—let me repeat, he’s a union leader—was even pleased enough with this “naughty” moment that he shared it on his social media platforms with the exchange circled.

I’ll just be here, head-desking.

While we’re on the subject of workers, though: Tampines Town Council has started tracking its cleaners. It’s justified as “protection” for the workers, but I don’t know how many Singaporeans would really want to be so closely monitored at work. We need more conversations about how technology can’t be the answer to everything, and how surveillance is a real concern.

Fighting over port limits and dessert

Malaysia changed its port limits in October, which has caused unhappiness in Singapore. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says there have been 14 intrusions by Malaysia into Singapore’s territorial waters over the past two weeks, and that Singapore won’t hesitate to take “firm actions against intrusions and unauthorised activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty” if necessary.

In other, more stupid, fights, Singapore and Malaysia (with some input from Indonesia) are also arguing over who cendol belongs to.

Got some more…

The Cabinet reshuffle is going to take place next year, after the Budget. Although Lee Hsien Loong will still be leading the party in the next election, he says the 4G are going to be in the thick of it. The 4G have also promised to start discussions with Singaporeans (again), but also after the Budget.

TODAY took a closer look at the capital punishment regime in Singapore, including a range of pro- and anti-death penalty voices, including yours truly. Also this week, two men who had previously been convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death were acquitted by the Court of Appeal.

A Ready4Repeal volunteer went to see his Member of Parliament, Lee Bee Wah, about Section 377A. He got a pretty rude brush-off. The PAP branch commented on the incident later, but it didn’t really address Edward Foo’s main points. What really troubled me, though, was how the responses to this incident highlighted how people see the role of the MP in Singapore (and how much political education is needed here).

Lastly, read this excellent commentary by Linda Lim and Pang Eng Fong about Singapore’s tertiary institutions.


Events and announcements

It’s the Freedom Film Festival this weekend! Check out the line-up of films below and come join us!

I’ll be at the festival selling New Naratif’s first book. I’ll also be moderating a discussion on Singapore and the Internet on the evening of the 9th. Come say hi!


Caption contest: the faves

Last week, I shared this image and asked you all to send me your best captions. Here are some of my favourites.

Many of you went with allusion to the PAP leadership succession:

“..and here, I become PM.”

“And illustrated here is the process by which we decided on the 4G leadership transition...”

“this is the 4G leadership succession plan”

Some felt that the artist was just as confused as the art:

“This is how you confuse the people if you have no ideas or answers for their questions.”

“How my mind works”

“I am not really sure where we want to be, but can anyone just tell me how to get there?”

And then there were those with the dance theme:

“Rumba in the rhombus”

*At a senior citizens’ Zumba/Line Dancing class for beginners*
“So, just remember, just like how I explained and drew on the diagram, to avoid bumping into each other during Zumba in a small room you need to synchronise and move in a cursive L shape like this. If you are feeling too dizzy, just line dance in a straight line across the room as shown by the 'T' but take note to stop here where my finger is in order to avoid a fellow dancer who is doing the cursive L”

This one above wins simply for being exactly as convoluted and ludicrous as the photo.

Honorary mention goes to:

“Can anyone tell me: where on the diagram is his clitoris?”