The Online Citizen under probe for criminal defamation over article

Police officers seized the equipment used to run socio-political website The Online Citizen from chief editor Terry Xu's home on the morning of Nov 20, 2018.
Police officers seized the equipment used to run socio-political website The Online Citizen from chief editor Terry Xu's home on the morning of Nov 20, 2018. PHOTO: ST FILE

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.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a police spokesman said yesterday that a report has been lodged against TOC and the author of the article, "The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post".

This article, whose headline had misspelt Mr Seah's name, was published on Sept 4, and its author was named as 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 was seized in relation to the case," the spokesman added.

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.

According to a post on TOC's Facebook page yesterday, 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 yesterday morning.

"The equipment, which includes 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 yesterday, 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 S$5,000.

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

The Straits Times has contacted Mr Xu for comment. Police investigations are ongoing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2018, with the headline 'The Online Citizen under probe for criminal defamation over article'. Print Edition | Subscribe