Alfian speaks out about the cancelled Yale-NUS programme

Issue 75

I’m still in Kuala Lumpur, where New Naratif is co-presenting the Journalism Campus over the weekend at the Cooler Lumpur Festival. In the meantime, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act has come into effect on 2 October. 😩


The “Dissent and Resistance” saga—Alfian speaks

Following the cancellation of the “Dissent and Resistance” Week 7 LAB at Yale-NUS (covered in a previous issue), Yale sent Pericles Lewis—Yale-NUS’ first president—to Singapore to carry out some fact-finding and produce a report. Lewis found that the decision to cancel the programme was due to a series of “administrative errors”, rather than any attempt to stifle academic freedom in the college. The report said that the course was scrapped because of concerns about academic rigour, as well as legal risks. It suggested that the curator of the programme, Alfian Sa’at, had rejected proposed revisions, and continued to talk of “simulating” protests, which triggered concerns about legal risks for students, particularly international students.

Not so fast, Alfian says. He’s put out a series of four Facebook posts, which I recommend you all read in full: one, two, three, four. Basically, Alfian says he’s been scapegoated by Yale-NUS. He says he’d been amenable to suggestions, and had made revisions. He also changed the programme and indicated that it would be “how to negotiate with boundaries related to filmmaking, visual arts and theatre. Not really activist strategies like protests and sit ins and occupy”.

Also: he was offered S$600 to curate, plan, and lead the week-long entire programme. 😳 How can?!

Related: Gilbert Goh tried to organise a forum inspired by “Dissent and Resistance” at the Substation, but his booking got cancelled because he was told that he would need to get licence for it.

Jolovan goes to court (again)

Jolovan Wham went to court on 4 October for the hearing of his appeal against his conviction under the Public Order Act. The court had found him guilty of organising an illegal assembly in the case of the indoor forum in which Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong had Skyped in to speak. His lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, argued that requiring him to have got a permit for that event would have been against the Constitution. He argued that a citizens’ right to exercise their right to freedom of assembly was contingent upon the Commissioner of Police’s decision to grant a permit, and suggested that the regime be changed to one where, instead of having to ask for a permit, one would only need to give the police notice of their intention to organise the event.

Election watch

Tan Cheng Bock and his Progress Singapore Party have started doing their walkabouts—over 300 volunteers and party members have covered all 29 constituencies that the party has set their eyes upon.

Heng Swee Keat says that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee is independent and not politically motivated. If u say so bro. The fact remains that the Prime Minister sets the guidelines or terms of reference.


Democracy classroom!

This month’s democracy classroom is going to be on 18 October, and we’re going to be talking about youth activism, given all the attention on Greta Thunberg and other young climate change activists, as well as the SG Climate Rally, and this Yale-NUS kerfuffle. You can get tickets here.

Apa Itu Activist!

Apa Itu Activist, a civil society conference, is back for its third iteration. It’ll be at Yale-NUS this year (🤞🏼), and registration is now open. It looks like a great line-up, so register ASAP to make sure you chope a space!