SINGAPORE - Historian Thum Ping Tjin has been issued a stern warning for allowing unauthorised paid advertising to be published by the New Naratif platform on Facebook during the general election in July last year, said the police.
This amounted to the conduct of election activity without authorisation by a candidate or his election agent during the campaign period - an offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act.
The police on Wednesday (Sept 15) said that the Observatory Southeast Asia (Osea), which publishes New Naratif, has similarly been issued a stern warning in lieu of prosecution for five counts of unauthorised conduct of election activity under the Act.
The police said it has completed its investigations against Mr Thum for breaches of the Parliamentary Elections Act during the election. Dr Thum is a director of OSEA and managing director of New Naratif.
The investigations started after a police report was filed by the Elections Department (ELD) over five paid Internet election advertisements published by New Naratif during the election when there was no authorisation to do so, said the police in their statement.
New Naratif was founded in 2017 by three Singaporeans - Dr Thum, freelance journalist Kirsten Han and comic artist Sonny Liew.
One of the advertisements that was boosted on Facebook featured a satirical video in the style of a perfume ad that accused Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of targeting his critics under the guise of the rule of law, among other things.
On July 3 last year, an assistant returning officer issued a notice to Facebook to remove the paid advertisements published by New Naratif which contravened the Act, said the police.
The ELD released a media statement on the notice that same day, and reminded the public that such advertising required authorisation by a candidate or an election agent during the campaign period.
On July 4, the takedown decision by ELD was publicised by New Naratif. But Osea continued to publish four other paid advertisements on the platform, said the police, adding that a police report was lodged as a result.
As part of the investigation process, the police interviewed Dr Thum on two occasions.
His mobile phone and laptop were seized for forensic examination as part of investigations, in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, they added.
"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 PEA."
The police, in consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers, then issued a stern warning to Dr Thum.
Osea has similarly been issued a stern warning in lieu of prosecution, through Dr Thum, for five counts of unauthorised conduct of election activity under the PEA.
Any person convicted of such an offence may be fined up to $2,000 and jailed up to 12 months.
In their statement, the police said New Naratif had received a grant from the US-based Foundation Open Society Institute in March 2018, according to transparency reports published on the website.
New Naratif also received funding from 1,303 members, including foreign citizens, as at August last year, said the police.