Singapore minister stands by comments on activists over Dr M meeting

Thum Ping Tjin with prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya August 30, 2018.—Picture via Facebook/Thum Ping Tjin
Thum Ping Tjin with prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya August 30, 2018.—Picture via Facebook/Thum Ping Tjin

SINGAPORE, Sept 5 — Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam stands by his comments on the activists involved in last week’s meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his press secretary said today.

Sunny Lee said: “We can have vigorous debates within Singapore about our own affairs. But you cross a red-line when you invite foreign powers or foreign leaders into Singapore politics.”

He was responding to a letter of complaint over the minister’s remarks on Sunday, which was sent by historian Thum Ping Tjin, freelance journalist Kirsten Han and activist Jolovan Wham to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A similar letter was sent to Charles Chong, who chairs the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. In the letters, the activists also took issue with Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng, who hit out at Thum for suggesting that Singaporeans should also rejoice on Malaysia’s independence day which fell on August 31.

The activists urged PM Lee, who is the secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), to look into the “irresponsible behaviour” of Shanmugam and Seah, who are members of the PAP “in positions of power”.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event, Shanmugam had said on Sunday that while it is the people’s right to have political differences in Singapore, one should “never go out and invite a foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics”. Adding that issues of sovereignty are “extremely important”, he also described the whole conduct of the Singaporeans involved as “a little sad” and “a bit regretful”.

In a press statement, Lee said the purpose of the activists’ letter was to “divert attention from the conduct of the writers”.

“The minister has no desire to prolong this matter. He will nevertheless respond to their complaints, to put the facts on the record,” he added.

The facts were that Thum, Han and Wham met Dr Mahathir on August 30, along with political dissident Tan Wah Piow and graphic novelist Sonny Liew.

Quoting Thum, Lee noted that the historian invited Dr Mahathir to “take leadership in South-east Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information”.

Thum also invited Dr Mahathir to address a conference about promoting democracy in South-east Asia, “which obviously includes Singapore”, Lee said. Thum also posted a photo of him presenting his book about politics in Singapore to Dr Mahathir.

Lee added that Tan gave an interview after the meeting, “also expressing the hope that Dr Mahathir and Malaysia could influence politics in Singapore”.

“Wham has asked ‘what’s wrong’ in Thum asking Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore, and that ‘international political pressure IS part of activism’,” Lee said.

He pointed out that Thum also believes that Singapore should be part of Malaya, and has declared that it was his “fervent wish” that Singapore “will one day return to our rightful place alongside our brothers and sisters in Malaya”. This statement was made on Singapore’s National Day, Lee noted.

Thum has also made several other posts, “to similar effect, about Singapore being part of Malaya”, Lee added.

“The three individuals claim that they are patriots. It is not patriotic to invite any foreign leader to intervene in Singapore politics, especially the leader of a country who has declared his desire to increase the price of water to Singapore by more than ten times, and with whom we seek to maintain close and friendly relations,” Lee said.

Separately, Han and civil activist Teo Soh Lung called on Seah to retract his remarks which were made on Facebook on Saturday. Among other things, Seah said it “appears quite clear to me that PJ Thum does not wish Singapore well”, and added that it was ‘interesting that Kirsten, Jolovan and Sonny should associate themselves with Thum”.

He also noted that Teo had commented on a Facebook video by socio-political website The Online Citizen that “Singapore is part of Malaya la”.

Teo subsequently said Seah had taken her comment out of context. She was commenting during a live video stream of Hishamuddin Rais speaking — at a forum titled “Can Singapore Do a Malaysia?” — on Malaysia’s decolonisation history during the 1950s, she said.

Han said she has received death threats, while Teo said she was called a traitor with Seah’s supporters “baying for blood”.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it “advises anyone who receives death threats to make a Police report”. “The Police will look into the matter accordingly,” said a ministry spokesperson. — TODAY

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