Grilling of academic at Select Committee hearings

Serious allegations had to be debunked: Shanmugam

Dr Thum Ping Tjin (right), an Oxford University research fellow, was questioned last Thursday by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam over allegations concerning Operation Coldstore.
Dr Thum Ping Tjin (right), an Oxford University research fellow, was questioned last Thursday by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam over allegations concerning Operation Coldstore.PHOTOS: GOV.SG

Minister says historian made serious allegations and refused to answer many questions directly

Historian Thum Ping Tjin had made serious allegations about Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and these had to be addressed, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"Either they have to be accepted, or shown to be untrue. Keeping quiet about them was not an option," Mr Shanmugam wrote in a Facebook post.

He said he had been asked why he spent some time asking Dr Thum questions. Last Thursday, the minister grilled the academic for nearly six hours during the Select Committee hearings on deliberate online falsehoods.

Mr Shanmugam said that Dr Thum's main point, in his written submission to the committee, "was that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the biggest creator of fake news in Singapore, a liar, and Operation Coldstore was based on falsehoods".

In his submission, Dr Thum cited previous research he did which contended that there was no evidence that the detainees were involved in any violent communist conspiracy to overthrow the Singapore Government.

Dr Thum, a research fellow at Britain's Oxford University, also argued that the 1963 Operation Coldstore, in which more than 100 leftist politicians and unionists were arrested and detained, had been politically motivated.

REBUTTAL ESSENTIAL

Either they have to be accepted, or shown to be untrue. Keeping quiet about them was not an option.

LAW AND HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, in a Facebook post, on historian Thum Ping Tjin's serious allegations about Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

These were serious allegations, Mr Shanmugam said in his post.

He said Dr Thum had refused to answer many of the questions directly, and it took five hours plus to go through the documents and records carefully.

In the end, Dr Thum said he had not read some of the material published by former communists on what happened in Singapore, and had "disregarded" the statements made by Chin Peng, leader of the Communist Party of Malaya.

The researcher also said that the way he set out the most important documents - of December 1962 - was not accurate; that the key meetings of Barisan Socialis showed that they were prepared to use armed struggle to overthrow a government of Singapore, if necessary; and the British had a honest view, in December 1962, that security action was necessary.

Added Mr Shanmugam: "People know me - I am direct, I deal with the facts, and say it as I think it is."

 

He also noted that cartoonist Sonny Liew "is not happy with what happened... It is quite understandable".

He was referring to the local cartoonist who had won three Eisner awards for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

In the early hours of yesterday, Mr Liew posted on Facebook an illustration depicting Mr Shanmugam in a white suit with a black dog, calling it a "visceral reaction" to viewing Dr Thum's hearing session.

Mr Liew described Dr Thum's session as a "relentless grilling over minutiae, where you speak only when spoken to, where one side seated on a high chair dictates all the lines and mode of questioning and unilaterally decides what sort of answers can be given, what sort of proof can be offered".

Mr Shanmugam, whose Facebook post was published after Mr Liew's, noted that the cartoonist is "quite close" to Dr Thum, and they work together on a venture. Both men are part of the team behind the New Naratif website.

The minister added that the Charlie Chan book is based on Dr Thum's version of history. "I have not met Sonny, but I have to say he is a good cartoonist," said Mr Shanmugam. "He is a talent."

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2018, with the headline 'Serious allegations had to be debunked: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe