Poison pen fliers – a virulent kind of sneakiness

Should the police investigate the PAP poison pen fliers incident?

Since a branch chairman of the People’s Action Party (PAP) led a group of party activists to distribute anti-Workers’ Party (WP) fliers in Aljunied, questions have been raised asking if the Singapore Police Force (SPF) should investigate the matter.

Briefly, the PAP branch chairman for the Bedok Reservoir area of the constituency, Victor Lye, together with his group of activists, had apparently distributed perhaps thousands of fliers to the flats in the area, urging residents to query the WP on issues pertaining to the running of the town council.

Are the actions of Victor Lye, who is also the chairman of the non-political grassroots organisation, the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), of the area, setting a precedent, or is he simply following one, when he distributes political literature to the public?

Incidents in recent years, particularly in 2009 and 2010, are instructive in viewing the issue.

In May 2009, several not-so-flattering posters of Member of Parliament for Nee Soon, Lee Bee Wah, were posted at some blocks in the area.

The posters had pictured Ms Lee’s face on the cover of a toilet seat, and called on her to resign her position as the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).

This was “around the time the STTA refused to nominate former national head coach Liu Guodong, who led the women’s team to a historic Olympic silver medal in 2008, for the Singapore Sports Awards” then. (New Paper.)

This was the poster which was put up in the area:

LBW

According to news reports, grassroots leaders were the first to come across the posters after they were put up. They then removed the posters and made a police report.

It was reported that subsequently, the police called in Dr Joseph Ong to help in investigations.

Dr Ong was a blogger at the time – and he admitted to putting up the posters.

A police spokesman later told the media:

“In response to media queries, police confirmed that a subject was administered a conditional stern warning on Sept 3 for the offence of intentional harassment.” (Emphasis added.)

A conditional warning means, among other things, that the offender must not commit any offence for a specified period, typically about 12 months.

If he commits another offence, he can be charged with the new offence as well as the previous one.

There are a few things worth noting here:

  1. It was apparently a grassroots leader who made the police report.
  2. It is unclear if Ms Lee herself had made a police report about the incident.
  3. That putting up the poster warranted a police investigation and the subsequent issuance of a “conditional stern warning”. 
  4. That putting up such posters is considered “intentional harassment”.

In another incident in 2010, anti-PAP fliers were “stuffed into the letter boxes of residents” of wards in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Marine Parade GRC, according to a TODAY report at the time.

The flier, written in both English and Chinese, had called on residents to “take collective and concerted action to go against the PAP”.

Here’s the English flier:

sengkangflyerc01

The TODAY newspaper, which is under the management of Mediacorp, reported at the time:

“MediaCorp understands that this case falls under the Sedition Act, where the offender could be fined up to $5,000 and/or given a maximum jail term of three years.” [Emphasis added.]

It did not elaborate why it thought the fliers were seditious.

The police said then that a police report had been made and that it was investigating the incident, although it did not reveal or disclose who the complainant was.

However, the Straits Times did say that a Ms K.C. Ong, an administrator in her 40s who had come across the flier, had called and informed the PAP headquarters and alerted the media later.

“I was shocked when I saw the flier,” Ms Ong reportedly said to the media. “I think it is not appropriate for such content to be circulated this way. It’s one thing seeing such things on the Internet, but another seeing the hard copy.”

What is worth noting is the police’s statement on the matter.

While both TODAY and the Straits Times had reported the fliers as being critical of the “People’s Action Party”, the police however said that the leaflets “[contained] anti-government remarks.”

Did the police equate criticisms of the PAP with criticisms of the Government?

It is unclear what the outcome of the police investigations were.

So, here we have two incidents of posters and fliers critical of the PAP being distributed in the housing estates.

Police reports were made, and the police investigated.

A “conditional warning” was issued to the “offender” in one case for “intentional harassment”, while the outcome of another is unclear.

vlIn the present case of Victor Lye and his activists, is there a case to be made of “intentional harassment” against the elected Members of Parliament (MP) of the WP who, incidentally, were queried on the town council issue in Parliament over two days, after a motion was filed by the Ministry of National Development.

It is thus rather curious that the anti-WP flier would accuse the WP of “keeping silent”. How did it do so over two days in front of some 80 PAP MPs and ministers? There is the record of the Hansard, the official parliamentary record of proceedings, which perhaps the PAP activists should go read.

And is there a case to be made of sedition which, according to the Sedition Act, includes (among other things), the actions “to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore”?

Would this not apply to causing the same disaffection towards elected MPs of the country?

But perhaps more importantly, the PAP leadership needs to ponder if this “poison pen fliers” method of conducting our politics is the way to go for our nation which is celebrating 50 years of achievement.

Do Singaporeans support such surreptitious behaviour of activists delivering the unsigned fliers in the dead of night?

Is this the kind of “right” politics the PAP speaks of?

July 2013
July 2013

And also, it is worth pondering on the fact that a chairman of a non-political grassroots organisation by day, goes out to distribute political leaflets to residents by night.

I think our GROs, made up of hardworking people, and our politically neutral Public Service, should be concerned.

Indeed, do Singaporeans support “this virulent kind of sneakiness”, as the Straits Times once described such poison pen letters?

“In this environment, is it a wonder then that even the respectable ruling party has difficulty in recruiting suitable candidates?”

“What is it in our culture that encourages this virulent kind of sneakiness?”

“Whatever the reason, it is wrong that a poison pen letter should be accepted as a way of putting things right.”

– Straits Times, 26 January 1986.

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