Police investigate socio-political site The Online Citizen for criminal defamation

According to a post on The Online Citizen's (TOC) Facebook page, police officers seized the equipment at TOC chief editor Terry Xu's home on Nov 20, 2018.
According to a post on The Online Citizen's (TOC) Facebook page, police officers seized the equipment at TOC chief editor Terry Xu's home on Nov 20, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The police are investigating socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) and one of its authors for the offence of criminal defamation, over its recent article involving comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng.

A spokesman for the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information, told The Straits Times that it had lodged the police report.

"IMDA has lodged a police report as The Online Citizen article 'The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post' made serious allegations that undermine the public's confidence in the Government's integrity," said the spokesman.

In response to media queries, a police spokesman said on Tuesday (Nov 20) that a report was lodged against TOC and the author of the article "The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post".

This article, whose headline had mis-spelt Mr Seah's name, was published on Sept 4, and its author was named to be Willy Sum.

The article involves the response that Mr Seah had made on Facebook over a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August. It has been removed from the TOC site.

The police spokesman said the article made serious allegations that "the Government's highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with".

"The Police are investigating this, for the offence of criminal defamation. Electronic equipment such as laptops and handphones were seized in relation to the case," the spokesman added.

According to a post on TOC's Facebook page on Tuesday, the website will be "on hiatus for the time being", as all the equipment used to run the website had been seized.

It added that police officers seized the equipment at TOC chief editor Terry Xu's home on Tuesday morning.

"The equipment, which include desktop, mobile devices and laptops, was seized at the residence of Terry Xu in the presence of five police officers this morning," wrote the post published at about 1.45pm.

"No confirmed date of return has been given, as investigation will take some time to conclude."

Ms Kirsten Han, a freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of online journalism platform New Naratif, wrote on Facebook at about 2.45pm that Mr Xu is being investigated for criminal defamation.

She added: "He has been summoned to Cantonment Complex for questioning at 3pm."

TOC was started in 2006. According to its website, it is currently run by Mr Xu as well as volunteer writers and editors. As of 10pm on Tuesday, TOC's website was still up.

In 2011, TOC was gazetted by the Singapore Registry of Political Donations as a political organisation.

Under the Political Donations Act, political organisations cannot receive funds from foreign contributors and anonymous contributions above $5,000.

In February 2018, TOC was de-gazetted as a "political association", as it is currently run by only Mr Xu.

The Straits Times has reached out to Mr Xu for comment.

Police investigations are ongoing.