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Thum Ping Tjin, New Naratif publisher issued 'stern warnings' by police for paid election ads during GE2020

LaksaNews

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SINGAPORE: Police have issued a "stern warning" to Dr Thum Ping Tjin over unauthorised paid election advertisements published on the socio-political website New Naratif during the General Election campaign last year.

Dr Thum is the director of Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA), which publishes New Naratif.

Investigations showed that the advertisements "were intended to prejudice the electoral prospects of a political party during GE2020", said the police on Wednesday (Sep 15).

The warning to Dr Thum, made in consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers, is 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", the police added in a news release.

OSEA was also given a stern warning in lieu of prosecution, through Dr Thum, for five counts of unauthorised conduct of election activity, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Investigations were conducted after the Elections Department (ELD) filed a police report over five paid Internet election advertisements published during GE2020 "when there was no authorisation to do so", said the police.

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, it is an offence to conduct election activity without authorisation by a candidate or his or her election agent from the start of the campaign period.

"Election activity" includes any activity 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; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election, according to the ELD.

The campaign period for GE2020 was from the close of Nomination Day on Jun 30 to Jul 8, with a Cooling-off Day before polls opened on Jul 10.

On Jul 3, 2020, an Assistant Returning Officer issued a notice to Facebook to remove the paid Internet election advertisements published on New Naratif that contravened the Parliamentary Elections Act.

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The next day, the ELD's takedown decision was publicised via the New Naratif platform, said the police.

"Thereafter however, OSEA continued to publish four other paid advertisements through New Naratif. A police report was therefore lodged," said SPF.

As part of the investigations, police interviewed Dr Thum on two occasions. His mobile phone and laptop were also seized for forensic examination, in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, said the police.

"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 Parliamentary Elections Act," said the SPF.

Anyone convicted of conducting unauthorised election activity can be jailed for up to 12 months, or fined up to S$2,000, or both.

The police added that according to transparency reports on New Naratif's website, New Naratif received a grant from the US-based Foundation Open Society Institute in March 2018.

New Naratif also received funding from 1,303 members, including foreign citizens, as of end-August 2020, said the police.

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