Saturday, 5 May 2018

Thumping of PJ Thum over ‘fake news’ hearing

Update 20 Sep 2018: Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods releases recommendations on how to tackle “fake news”

Parliament released the Executive Summary of the Report of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which includes the Committee’s recommendations on how to tackle “fake news,” today. We re-publish the summary in full here:


Thum Ping Tjin refutes Select Committee's assertion that he lied about academic credentials
Thum Ping Tjin said he disagrees with the Select Committee’s allegation that he misrepresented his academic credentials. (PHOTO: Screenshot from Gov.sg YouTube page)

Historian Thum Ping Tjin has refuted a parliamentary committee’s claim that he lied about his academic credentials and gave “misleading evidence” during hearings on the issue of fake news, saying that the “allegation” is untrue.

Thum said in a Facebook post on Saturday (22 September), “I completely disagree with the Report of the Select Committee’s allegation that I “clearly lied” and misrepresented my academic credentials. I will respond more fully in due course. In the meantime, I repost here statements from Oxford, along with both my submissions to the Select Committee.” The 38-year-old accompanied his post with web links to his full submissions to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, and news reports of statements made by academics from Oxford University who attested that Thum was a qualified historian.

On Thursday (20 September) at a press conference on the release of its report and recommendations, the Select Committee said that Thum had sought to paint a picture of holding “an academic position of some seniority with Oxford University”, when this was not the case. “He was given certain privileges in return for him paying a fee to the university,” said the 10-member panel in a 13-page addendum to its report that was dedicated to the committee’s exchanges with three parties critical of its work: Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and Thum.


Pingtjin Thum 23 hrs

I completely disagree with the Report of the Select Committee’s allegation that I “clearly lied” and misrepresented my academic credentials. I will respond more fully in due course. In the meantime, I repost here statements from Oxford, along with both my submissions to the Select Committee.



The Conundrum of Operation Coldstore

Actually I have stopped blogging since last year. Lately I have been intrigued by the persistent appeals of interested political observers to give my view on the controversial Operation Coldstore. I will make this my swan song.

I will try to give an objective view on Operation Coldstore without giving offence to any party be it the powers-that-be or the opposition. The bombastic submission on Operation Coldstore by the authentic reputed Oxford Historian Dr. Thum Ping Tjin  to the Select Committee on deliberate falsehoods has created an unprecedented uproar to the members of the Select Committee as well as the public .Dr. Thum's submission seems to lack objectivity by presenting only one side of the picture without the opportunity of having the insight of the deliberations and discussions of the Internal Security Council (ISC) comprising Malaysian and British representatives which gave the approval to PM Lee Kuan Yew to proceed with Operation Coldstore. What the ISC discussed was top secret and not privy to the public. So it remained a secret how Lee Kuan Yew had been able to convince the ISC with his eloquence to give him the approval. Members of the ISC were not guillible people who could be easily persuaded.

That Operation Coldstore was  mounted against the leaders of the Communist United Front ostensibly to pre-empt them from seizing power was never in doubt but that it had also helped Lee Kuan Yew in consolidating his position against his political opponents cannot be dismissed as a fact. Some of those detained can be described dyed-in-the-wool subversives but it cannot be denied that some may be less implicated. The fact that Dr. Thum Ping Tjin is an authentic reputed Oxford Historian  can  never be detracted by any amount of denigration by any party though there was no lack of such attempts as seen in his six-hour questioning in the Select Committee. The Operation Coldstore controversy will go on indefintely because there can never be a definitive conclusion to it.


Substance of Thum Ping Tjin’s paper to the Select Committee has been overlooked by Singaporeans

In the spirit of media literacy to defend against fake news, I became curious about what PJ Thum submitted to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. Out of 170 papers submitted, PJ was singled out in the Select Committee’s report and in the media. The Select Committee says it gave “no weight” to PJ’s views on the basis that he lied about his academic credentials. As a discerning person trying to avoid being misled by fake news, I went to the source – PJ’s paper – so that I could decide for myself whether PJ’s views were nonsense. If so, I would know not to believe any nonsense in that paper if it arose again in future. This is PJ’s 5-page paper – the one which resulted in a six-hour cross-examination. It can be read within 10 minutes, so if you’re on the train this is an easy read.

Having actually read PJ’s paper, I can’t help but wonder:
  • Of all of PJ’s views in his five-page paper, the focus is on the alleged “lie” about being a research fellow instead of a visiting scholar. Why not simply point to the *substance* of his paper and criticise it? The Select Committee did precisely this in respect of another written representation: “The Committee decided not to publish the written representation by Mr Alex Tan, being of the opinion that it was not made in good faith. It contained personal insults, irrelevant comments and sarcastic proposals.” (para. 15, Report of the Select Committee). This tells us in plain words what is wrong with the substance of Mr Alex Tan’s written representation.
  • If the detentions under Operation Coldstore were all justified because the detainees were part of a conspiracy to subvert the government, why not say that plainly? The Select Committee’s Dr. Janil Puthucheary is particularly well-placed to speak about Operation Coldstore since his father Dominic Puthucheary was one of the detainees of Operation Coldstore.
  • To give no weight to PJ’s paper because of his credentials (or lack thereof) suggests that if a different person repeated the content of the paper, we can give weight to the content. This is consistent with thought #1 above. But is PJ’s real offence his forceful questioning of the true nature of Operation Coldstore?
  • What does the Select Committee think of the Russian MFA’s 1-page submission
  • Does the use of state power to whack a citizen in this ugly way trouble anyone at all? Since PJ submitted his paper to the Select Committee, he has repeatedly been attacked while the substance of his paper has been overlooked. Are these the standards of decency and debate to which a 53-year old democracy holds itself – or should we do better and look to some of the most well-paid politicians in the world to lead by showing what mature, decent and thoughtful public debate looks like? Might it not assist the Government’s case on the legitimacy of Operation Coldstore by releasing papers from 1963 – papers which are 55 years old and which are unlikely to pose any threat to national security in 2018 – so that the public can decide for itself? Do we believe that the efforts to educate a population for the past 53 years have produced a discerning and fair-minded population who could be trusted to look at the relevant documents about Coldstore, and form their own view about whether detainees were involved in a conspiracy to subvert the Government?




In Defence of Dr PJ Thum and Academic Freedom in Singapore

We, the undersigned Trustees of Oxford Project Southeast Asia, wish to express in the strongest possible terms our concern regarding the treatment of Dr PJ Thum in recent hearings of the Singapore government’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. Co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, and a member of its Board of Trustees, Dr Thum is a historian of Singapore’s independence struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, and since completing his doctorate at Oxford on this subject in 2011 has continued his research, notably reviewing documentation released recently by the British government on that era, and making his findings available to a wider audience. The documentation provided by his original and carefully sourced research has revealed events and relationships between Singapore’s leaders of the period that run counter to the view of the country’s history as now promoted by the Singapore government.

Earlier this year, Dr Thum responded to the public call, by the Select Committee, for submissions on the current state of media information and its reliability in Singapore. However, when called to interview by the Committee, he found that the contents of his submission were not the object of their inquiry, and were never directly discussed. Instead, Dr Thum was subjected to six hours of questioning by the Minister for Law and Home Affairs which focussed on the findings of his academic research. In the course of this interrogation, which may be viewed in full online at the Government of Singapore’s YouTube channel the Minister repeatedly expressed disdain for Dr Thum’s research, rephrasing its findings in general terms that misrepresented it, and attempting to get Dr Thum to agree to those rephrasings by attempting to force him to provide only yes/no answers. Dr Thum has since been subject to unflattering and one-sided reporting by the media.

Dr Thum’s research has already met the rigorous standards of examination at Oxford, and in peer review by fellow historical experts on the region. There is an evident irony in a Select Committee addressed to deliberate information falsehoods which proceeds by impugning and restating empirical findings. The implications for academic freedom, and for freedom of expression in Singapore, are very troubling. Instead of a hearing with the stated objective of securing truth in information, the actual conduct of its questioning appears designed to intimidate those who seek to publish the truth.

We call on the Select Committee to issue an immediate and public apology for this unacceptable treatment of Dr Thum.

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Open Letter in defence of Dr PJ Thum and academic freedom in Singapore

This letter is in support of a Singaporean historian, Pingtjin (PJ) Thum, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, and academic freedom more broadly in Singapore. Dr Thum is a well-known critic of the historical narratives used by Singapore’s ruling party to justify its domination, which leaves him dangerously exposed to government harassment. Recently the Singaporean government held hearings into the “deliberate dissemination of falsehoods online”, i.e. so-called “fake news”. PJ and other Singaporean activists understand this to be about preparing the ground for laws that will enhance the government’s already extensive power to regulate the media/ internet – as recently enacted in neighbouring Malaysia, where “fake news” has been outlawed to shield the incumbent regime from corruption accusations. These activists therefore presented submissions to the parliamentary committee and were summoned to give oral testimony. Dr Thum argued in his submission that government efforts to regulate “online falsehoods” were disingenuous because government ministers had themselves made false claims about Singaporean history (including Operation Coldstore, the mass imprisonment of opposition activists in the 1960s on the grounds they were part of a “communist plot”). Dr Thum’s research shows these claims to be untrue. When he appeared before the committee, PJ was subjected to a six hour interrogation by the Minister of Law and Home Affairs. His academic work and personal integrity was essentially put on “show trial”, without warning, in an attempt to intimidate and discredit our academic colleague. You can view the testimony below. The first video starts at a point where the Minister impugs Dr Thum's abilities as a historian and compares him to the Holocaust denier David Irving. The second is a collection of excerpts from the interrogation.

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Arguments on Operation Coldstore remain substantially unchallenged, says Thum Ping Tjin
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugan questioned historian Thum Ping Tjin for 6 hours in front of the committee in March. FOTO: GOV.SG

Historian Thum Ping Tjin maintains that a 1963 round-up of leftists in a swoop code-named Operation Coldstore was motivated by political, not security, reasons & that this larger point in his submission to the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods still stands.

His views were set out in a follow-up submission to the Select Committee on Thursday (May 3), which was also published online, the latest development in the continuing controversy over Dr Thum's appearance in front of the committee in March.

At the hearing, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, a committee member, questioned Dr Thum for 6 hours, arguing that Dr Thum's interpretation of documents from the Special Branch - the agency that preceded the Internal Security Department - was flawed.

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Follow up Submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Parliament of Singapore

At the invitation of Mr Shanmugam (lines 1049–1065, 1808, 5591), I am submitting this as a follow up to my hearing to be entered into the record, to address points raised which I was unable to fully address during the hearing. This includes clarification of points raised, clarification of sources and documents raised in the hearing, and submission of documents requested during the hearing on specific incidents.

Clarification of Points Raised:
  • The crux of my original submission was not addressed in the discussion. Instead, the focus of discussion in the hearing was my article “The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”. As such, I attach my article in this submission to be included in the report to the Select Committee (attachment 1). Regardless of the merits of my article, the larger point which I made in my submission remains substantially unchallenged: “Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state. Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie. Operation Coldstore was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the government.”
  • I note that the fundamental arguments of my article as laid out in the conclusion (page 21–22) were not raised nor challenged.
  • At no point did I accept that any part of my article was inaccurate or misleading. The focus of a major part of the hearing was on my interpretation of two documents: A mole within the Barisan organisation attended two meetings of the Barisan Socialis on 23 September and 30 September 1962 and submitted two memoranda describing the discussions of the two meetings. The meetings were called to discuss the party’s strategy following the Merger referendum of 1 September 1962. The Barisan Sosialis believed that the PAP had effectively rigged the referendum by using the parliamentary process to force through referendum ballot that contained three options, all of which favoured merger, of which only the PAP’s version was feasible, and with no option to say no. The documents, therefore, must be read against the anger and frustration of the Barisan rank and file, who — as I noted in my article “had complained that the constitution was pointless if it was so easily manipulated”.

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PJ THUM RELEASES A FOLLOW UP SUBMISSION TO THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON DELIBERATE ONLINE FALSEHOODS

Yesterday, Dr Thum Ping Tjin released a follow up submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

When he shared it on his Facebook page, it was accompanied by a few lines from a Broadway song ‘Hurricane’, where supposedly the main character Hamilton’s reflection on his tenuous situation derails him, and causes him to publish an admission to adultery.

His lengthy submission, which follows the transcript of his hearing with Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, was, “to address points raised which [he] was unable to fully address during the hearing. This includes clarification of points raised, clarification of sources and documents raised in the hearing, and submission of documents requested during the hearing on specific incidents”.

related: The PJ Thum saga: A post-Select Committee timeline

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Kirsten Han added 2 new photos. 22 April at 18:38

I’ve heard that some of those who signed the open letter in support of Pingtjin Thum have received anonymous emails from encrypted accounts (see photos). It’s not clear who is behind this.

If anyone can further corroborate, or if you've received emails like this, message/email me! Some have shared their screencaps in the comments thread, so feel free to do that too if you're comfortable.

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Open Letter on PJ Thum and Academic Freedom in Singapore

The below is an open letter from Dr. Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London, to Charles Chong MP, Chairman of the Select Committee on Online Falsehoods.

The letter follows the sitting of the Select Committee on Online Falsehoods established by the Singapore government to investigate the issue of "fake news", its causes, consequences and potential countermeasures. The hearing caused controversy in the city state after the historian PJ Thum and activist Kirsten Han were called to give evidence at the committee, only to have their personal work histories called into question.

Following Lee's letter is a further missive signed by almost 300 academics calling into question Thum's treatment and the committee's process. For Chong's part, he has has suggested the open letter represents "a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert [Singapore's] parliamentary processes."

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Open Letter in defence of Dr PJ Thum and academic freedom in Singapore

The undersigned are members of the global academic community, concerned with the study of History and/or Singapore, or with academic freedom more generally. We are writing to express our deep concern at your committee’s treatment of one of our colleagues, Dr Pingtjin Thum, and the wider implications for freedom of expression and academic freedom in Singapore.

Your committee recently held public hearings into the dissemination of “deliberate online falsehoods”, also known as so-called “fake news”. In principle, we welcome this approach, an unusual one in Singapore. While concern about the dissemination of deliberate falsehoods online is reasonable, cries of “fake news!” are also being used across the world to silence dissenting voices and restrict media freedom. It is therefore vital to take a measured and reasonable approach, and public consultations with experts and civil society groups can be one valuable way to ensure this.

However, your committee’s conduct suggests that the government of Singapore is more interested in restricting civil liberties than defending them against so-called “fake news”. Key civil society actors have been given only a few minutes to speak, after being kept waiting for hours. Dr Pingtjin Thum, meanwhile, was subjected to a six-hour cross-examination by a government minister. We are particularly alarmed by this. Despite declaring that your committee was not an inquiry into Operation Coldstore, the minister proceeded to interrogate Dr Thum, treating him and his widely respected scholarship with disdain. The clear objective was not to establish the extent of the threat from “fake news”, but to attack and discredit a prominent critic of the historical narratives used by Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party. This is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and academic freedom in Singapore.

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More than 130 academics sign open letter in support of historian Thum Ping Tjin, academic freedom
More than 130 academics from around the world have put their names to an open letter in support of academic freedom & historian Thum Ping Tjin. Photo: Parliament screengrab

More than 130 academics from around the world have put their names to an open letter in support of academic freedom & historian Thum Ping Tjin as of Tuesday (April 10), 4 days after the document was put up.

The list included those who have taught or previously worked with Dr Thum — an Oxford University research fellow — as well as several academics working in Singapore universities.

Dr Thum was involved in a marathon exchange lasting about 6 hours with Law & Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam at a public hearing conducted last month by the Select Committee studying deliberate online falsehoods.

related: Allegations of conspiring with historian Thum to subvert parliamentary processes ‘preposterous’: Oxford academic

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Oxford professors defend historian Thum’s thesis and academic credentials 
(From L-R) Dr Peter Carey, Prof John Darwin, Prof Judith Brown & Dr Thum Ping Tjin. Fotos: Project Southeast Asia,Nuffield College,Balliol College and Parliament screengrab

3 Oxford academics have defended the doctoral thesis & academic credentials of historian Thum Ping Tjin, after doubts were cast by the Parliamentary Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

In a letter dated Wednesday (May 2) & addressed to committee chairman Charles Chong, Professor Judith Brown, Professor John Darwin, and Dr Peter Carey said Dr Thum's doctoral thesis, Chinese Language Political Mobilisation in Singapore, 1953-1963, was "written to the very highest standards of historical research that Oxford expects of its doctoral students".

Prof Brown, who identified herself in the letter as Dr Thum's examiner, is an Emeritus Beit Professor of Commonwealth History at the university. Prof Darwin is an Emeritus Professor of Global & Imperial History, while Dr Peter Carey is an Emeritus Fellow of Oxford's Trinity College and visiting (adjunct) professor at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Indonesia. Prof Darwin and Dr Carey were the joint doctoral supervisors for Dr Thum.

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Oxford academics say Thum Ping Tjin 'is and remains an academically trained historian'
A group of academics from the University of Oxford said Dr Thum Ping Tjin had received a Doctor of Philosophy in History from the university, & is an active researcher who has produced refereed academic books and journal articles. FOTO: GOV.SG

A group of academics from the University of Oxford have written to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to attest to historian Thum Ping Tjin's academic credentials.

They said Dr Thum had received a Doctor of Philosophy in History from the university, & is an active researcher who has produced refereed academic books and journal articles.

"Dr PJ Thum is and remains an academically trained historian," said Emeritus Beit Professor of Commonwealth History Judith Brown, Emeritus Professor of Global & Imperial History John Darwin and Emeritus Fellow of Trinity College Peter Carey in a letter they released to the media on Wednesday (May 2).

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Claims of conspiracy to subvert parliamentary processes ‘clearly preposterous’: Oxford academic
“The conspiracy that Mr Chong claims to have discovered in our private correspondence exists only in his own imagination,” says Dr Philip Kreager in an online statement

Any notion of a conspiracy on the part of Oxford Project Southeast Asia to “subvert (Singapore’s) parliamentary processes is clearly preposterous”, said Dr Philip Kreager, chair of Oxford Project Southeast Asia, in an online statement published on Tuesday (May 1).

Dr Kreager, who is also senior lecturer in Human Sciences at Somerville College at Oxford University, was responding to the statement made by the chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods Charles Chong on Monday.

Mr Chong said in his statement that the email correspondence between 2 trustees of the Oxford Project Southeast Asia - Professor Jeff Burley & Dr Kreager - suggests that “there has been a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence & subvert our parliamentary processes”.

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Oxford academics say Thum is and remains a trained historian

A group of academics from the University of Oxford have written to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to attest to historian Thum Ping Tjin's academic credentials.

They said Dr Thum had received a Doctor of Philosophy in History from the university & is an active researcher who has produced refereed academic books & journal articles.

"Dr PJ Thum is & remains an academically trained historian," said Emeritus Beit Professor of Commonwealth History Judith Brown, Emeritus Professor of Global and Imperial History John Darwin and Emeritus Fellow of Trinity College Peter Carey in a letter they released to the media yesterday.

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Civil society activists criticise Singapore’s Select Committee hearings

Open public consultations are a rarity under Singapore’s current administration. As such, when the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods solicited submissions from the public, we engaged in good faith.

We were concerned that responses to “fake news” could potentially infringe upon Singaporeans’ freedom of expression or trigger unintended negative consequences and thus made submissions to that effect. When invited to give oral evidence before the Committee, we did our best to accommodate the Committee despite multiple, sometimes last-minute, scheduling changes.

However, the hearings were hardly open or consultative:
  • The Select Committee did not adhere to its own Terms of Reference
  • The Select Committee did not appear to be interested in soliciting our views
  • Articles were presented and selectively quoted in ways that were sometimes misleading
  • Following appearances before the Select Committee, some submissions were grossly misrepresented within the official Summary of Evidence

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PJ Thum’s treatment will dampen Singaporean academics’ willingness to speak out
Politicians’ disparagement of historian’s research signals that alternative interpretations of the city state’s past will not be tolerated, says Linda Lim

Many governments are debating what to do about the spread of online “fake news”. Singapore is no exception, and it has constituted a parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. Among several academics to make written submissions and to be called to give evidence in a March hearing was Thum Ping Tjin (P. J. Thum), a former Rhodes scholar who, following his doctorate, still maintains research connections to the University of Oxford.

Among other arguments, Thum’s submission stated that the People’s Action Party, which has monopolised power in Singapore since full self-government was established in 1959, has historically spread disinformation for partisan advantage.

Between 1963 and 1987, it incarcerated about 2,500 individuals, who were accused – but never tried or convicted – of being part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the government. One incident of mass political detention, 1963’s “Operation Coldstore”, occupied a few sentences in Thum’s five-page submission. Yet his published research on the subject – based largely on declassified British colonial documents – became almost the sole focus of a six-hour interrogation led by K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s minister of law and home affairs. The hearing included attempts to disparage Thum’s academic credentials, as well as aggressive, detailed questioning of his facts, sources and interpretation. Online attacks along similar lines soon followed.

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In Defence of Dr PJ Thum and Academic Freedom in Singapore

We, the undersigned Trustees of Oxford Project Southeast Asia, wish to express in the strongest possible terms our concern regarding the treatment of Dr PJ Thum in recent hearings of the Singapore government’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. Co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, and a member of its Board of Trustees, Dr Thum is a historian of Singapore’s independence struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, and since completing his doctorate at Oxford on this subject in 2011 has continued his research, notably reviewing documentation released recently by the British government on that era, and making his findings available to a wider audience. The documentation provided by his original and carefully sourced research has revealed events and relationships between Singapore’s leaders of the period that run counter to the view of the country’s history as now promoted by the Singapore government.

Earlier this year, Dr Thum responded to the public call, by the Select Committee, for submissions on the current state of media information and its reliability in Singapore. However, when called to interview by the Committee, he found that the contents of his submission were not the object of their inquiry, and were never directly discussed. Instead, Dr Thum was subjected to six hours of questioning by the Minister for Law and Home Affairs which focussed on the findings of his academic research. In the course of this interrogation, which may be viewed in full online at the Government of Singapore’s YouTube channel, the Minister repeatedly expressed disdain for Dr Thum’s research, rephrasing its findings in general terms that misrepresented it, and attempting to get Dr Thum to agree to those rephrasings by attempting to force him to provide only yes/no answers. Dr Thum has since been subject to unflattering and one-sided reporting by the media.

Dr Thum’s research has already met the rigorous standards of examination at Oxford, and in peer review by fellow historical experts on the region. There is an evident irony in a Select Committee addressed to deliberate information falsehoods which proceeds by impugning and restating empirical findings. The implications for academic freedom, and for freedom of expression in Singapore, are very troubling. Instead of a hearing with the stated objective of securing truth in information, the actual conduct of its questioning appears designed to intimidate those who seek to publish the truth. We call on the Select Committee to issue an immediate and public apology for this unacceptable treatment of Dr Thum.

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Oxford historians saga and Operation Coldstore

The People's Action Party (PAP) has historically been fond of seeing conspiracies in every word or phrase it dislikes. Its latest allegation that Oxford University historians have conspired to “subvert [our] parliamentary process” is not as exaggerated as what it has claimed against some Singaporeans. (Straits Times 1 May 2018). Singaporeans have been accused of conspiring to overthrow the government using violent means.

The Oxford University historians have naturally responded to the unfounded allegation.

In the past, many Singaporeans have been called “communists, euro-communists, communist sympathisers, Marxists and all manner of Leftists”. They have been accused of conspiring to bring down the entire PAP government using violent means. Such unfounded allegations have resulted in mass arrests under the Internal Security Act and its predecessor, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance. Thousands have been arrested and detained without trial under these laws.

related: Open letter by 284 academics sent to Charles Chong to express concerns over conduct of Select Committee

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In Response to Mr Charles Chong’s Allegations

On 17 April 2018, Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford, released a statement defending Dr PJ Thum.

On 20 April 2018, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Mr Charles Chong, responded to Project Southeast Asia’s statement in a private letter to the signatories of the statement.

In a private letter dated 26 April 2018, Dr Philip Kreager, Chair of Project Southeast Asia, replied to Mr Chong’s 20 April letter.

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S’porean academic Prof Lim stands up to defend Dr Thum when others keep silence

Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, the former GIC chief economist and adjunct professor at the LKY School of Public Policy, published a letter from Prof Linda Lim on his Facebook page today (13 Apr).

Prof Lim, a Singaporean and the Professor Emerita of Corporate Strategy and International Business at the University of Michigan, is one of the close to 200 world academics who recently signed an open letter supporting Dr Thum Ping Tjin and said that diverse views should be encouraged and not quashed. They defended Dr Thum, who was questioned for six hours last month by the Law and Home Affairs Minister during the Select Committee hearing.

Prof Lim, who was very disturbed by the recent 6-hour grilling received by Dr Thum at the hearing said, "I have written about academic freedom before in Today ('When academics speak their mind, society benefits') and my views there should be referenced as a backdrop to my signing the open letter."

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Dr Thum was once praised by PM Lee for his boldness to take on a difficult challenge

In 2005, Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a former national swimmer who represented Singapore at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, became the first Singaporean as well as the first Oxford graduate to swim the English Channel.

He trained for almost a year to accomplish this feat. On 6 Aug 2005, he plunged into the cold waters of the Channel and attempted to swim across. The sea was calm at first but few hours later, the weather turned worse. Dr Thum didn't give up and continued to persist in his endeavor. About 12 hours and 24 minutes later, he successfully reached the coast of France, becoming the first Singaporean to swim the Channel. After his swim, he returned to Oxford to continue his studies.

Four days later on 10 Aug 2005, Dr Thum got a surprise letter from PM Lee congratulating him. The letter, sent to his college in Oxford, praised him, then a 26-year-old, for "having braved 35 km of cold water for 12 hours to conquer 'the Everest of swimming'". This was reported on Straits Times.


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chenshowmao Singapore

Today I finally finished watching Dr Thum Ping Tjin's entire testimony before the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods (parts while "multi-tasking", admittedly). The whole thing lasted six hours or so, about half as long as Dr Thum's famous swim across the English Channel in 2005.

Towards the end, I wondered how tired of it Dr Thum might have been behind his wry smile, even if nothing like how he felt about his swim: “The waves came crashing down on me and tossed me about like the insignificant speck that I was. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it. I was fairly certain I’d just reached a point where everything would just collapse and they’d have to fish me out of the water.” How did he keep going?
“I thought about my family, my friends, about Singapore. I sang the national anthem to myself, I sang my school song to myself, I sang every single inspirational theme I could think of. I thought of all the people who believed in me, and all the people who supported me. I thought of all the children who would benefit from my swim. I kept going, for just a few more strokes.”
In the same vein, I feel like reminding Dr Thum to take to heart PM Lee Hsien Loong's congratulatory message to him on his earlier endeavour: “Your adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge, and strength to carry it through are an inspiration to us all.  Singapore may be a small country but our people are capable of great endeavours. May your success encourage many more Singaporeans to dare to dream, and to act on those dreams for themselves, for their families, and for Singapore.”

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Lam Keong Yeoh 12 April at 15:22

In this case, the grilling of Dr. Thum--not by his peers in an academic forum, but by a senior government official in a public hearing ostensibly focused on another issue, the problem of "fake news"—discourages academics from (a) challenging established orthodoxies, which is their role and the process by which progress in knowledge is made, (b) exercising their right and even responsibility as members of civil society to comment on issues of public policy interest.

In such matters, diverse views are to be encouraged, expected and respected, not discouraged as the truly extraordinary six-hour public interrogation of Dr. Thum will do. Going forward, few individuals, academics or others, will voluntarily subject themselves to the risk of such hostile persecution by the powerful, by sharing views which may not conform to official narratives, and society will be the poorer for it.

More specifically, the grilling of Dr. Thum appeared to be less over the substance of his work, but over his credentials and academic integrity—which was beyond the remit and the professional qualifications of the Select Committee. In addition, the questioning of Dr. Thum’s character led to further public denigration of his character online, in the same unfortunately disrespectful tone that the Select Committee used.

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Charles Chong vs PJ Thum again – ignoring the facts or an unthinking media?

Chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods Charles Chong issued a new letter on 30 April claiming collusion between Dr Thum Ping Tjin, who submitted a proposal to the Select Committee that pointed to the ruling People’s Action Party as a perpetrator of falsehoods, and his colleagues at Project Southeast Asia in the University of Oxford.

“He said Dr Thum may have had a hand in crafting an open letter signed by academics worldwide as well as a statement from University of Oxford researchers,” declared the national broadsheet, The Straits Times.

Mr Chong is, of course, entitled to his opinion and insinuations, but such insinuations must be made based on the facts of the case, and analysed to the best of his ability. This is how social discourse can lead to social progress.

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PJ Thum releases a follow up submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods

Yesterday, Dr Thum Ping Tjin released a follow up submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

When he shared it on his Facebook page, it was accompanied by a few lines from a Broadway song ‘Hurricane’, where supposedly the main character Hamilton’s reflection on his tenuous situation derails him, and causes him to publish an admission to adultery.

His lengthy submission, which follows the transcript of his hearing with Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, was, “to address points raised which [he] was unable to fully address during the hearing. This includes clarification of points raised, clarification of sources and documents raised in the hearing, and submission of documents requested during the hearing on specific incidents”.


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Chairman of Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods responds to open letter defending Dr Thum Ping Tjin
The chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Charles Chong, has responded to an open letter in support of historian Thum Ping Tjin & academic freedom

The chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Charles Chong, has responded to an open letter in support of historian Thum Ping Tjin & academic freedom by more than 130 academics around the world. Here is Mr Chong's statement in full.

There is an open letter addressed to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which I chair. The authors of the letter are unknown. The letter takes issue with our questioning of Dr Thum Ping Tjin.

In his written representation to our Committee, Dr Thum alleged that the Singapore Government is the chief source of fake news in Singapore. He specifically referred to Operation Coldstore, & charged that the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the primary liar.

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Historian Thum Ping Tjin made serious allegations against Lee Kuan Yew, keeping quiet about them 'not an option': Shanmugam
On the final day of the Select Committee's public hearing on deliberate online falsehoods, Law Minister K Shanmugam and Oxford historian Thum Ping Tjin sparred for almost 6 hours

Historian Thum Ping Tjin made serious allegations against founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in last week's Select Committee hearing, & keeping quiet about them was “not an option”, said Law Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (Apr 2).

In a Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam explained why he had spent "some time" asking the historian questions during the last day of the public hearing by the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

The session last Thursday saw the minister questioning Dr Thum for almost 6 hours on the interpretation of historical events such as Operation Coldstore and the Hock Lee Bus riots.

related: Minister questioning Dr Thum for almost six hours

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Thum Ping Tjin ‘engineered’ academic support for himself after hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods: Charles Chong
An email exchange between 2 members of Project Southeast Asia suggests that there has been “a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes", says Mr Chong

After being questioned for about 6 hours at a Select Committee hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods last month, historian Thum Ping Tjin received the support of dozens of academics who criticised the way he had been grilled by Home and Law Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

Shortly after the hearing, an open letter addressed to committee chairman Charles Chong emerged, taking issue with the “unacceptable treatment” of Dr Thum. The letter was signed mainly by academics from around the world, and as of May 1, had more than 280 signatories.

That support, however, seems to have been “primarily engineered” by Dr Thum himself, said Mr Chong in a statement on Monday (Apr 30), after seeing an email exchange between 2 trustees of a group called Project Southeast Asia.

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Thum Ping Tjin ‘must expect to be questioned’ when views are put to Select Committee: Charles Chong
Responding to an open letter signed by about 230 academics from around the world in support of Dr Thum, Mr Chong said that their concerns about academic freedom in Singapore were "misplaced"

The chairman of the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods, Mr Charles Chong, on Tuesday (Apr 17) responded to an open letter written in support of historian Thum Ping Tjin.

The open letter, signed by about 230 academics from around the world & addressed to Mr Chong, took issue with the “unacceptable treatment” of Dr Thum and the way he was questioned for nearly six hours by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam at one of the Select Committee hearings.

“His academic work & personal integrity was essentially put on ‘show trial’, without warning, in an attempt to intimidate and discredit our academic colleague,” read the letter.

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Charles Chong says historian Thum had 'engineered' support for himself, points to 'coordinated attempt' with 'foreign actors' to subvert parliamentary process
Charles Chong (left), the chairman of Select Committee on Online Falsehoods, has released a new statement and email exchange on historian Thum Pingtjin (center), saying the academic had "engineered" support for himself. Dr Philip Kreager (right), one of the academics backing Dr Thum in the new online statement, is a director of a company linked to George Soros

Mr Charles Chong, chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, has released a new statement & an email exchange with regards to historian Dr Thum Pingtjin, & the academics who had written to support his recent comments before the committee. In his statement, Mr Chong said the support appeared to have been "primarily engineered" by Dr Thum himself, working in connection with Dr Philip Kreager, an academic who is a director of a company linked to George Soros.

Mr Chong added: "We must protect our independence & the institution of Parliament. The information now available suggests that there has been a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes. This is a serious matter."

This is Mr Chong's statement in full, including his latest exchanges on the matter.

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Historian Thum Ping Tjin appears to be involved in coordinated attempt to subvert parliamentary processes: Charles Chong

Historian Thum Ping Tjin has been accused of possible involvement in “a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert” Singapore’s parliamentary processes.

“This is a serious matter,” said Mr Charles Chong, chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, who laid out the evidence against Dr Thum in a three-page statement on Monday (April 30).

He said Dr Thum may have had a hand in crafting an open letter signed by academics worldwide as well as a statement from University of Oxford researchers.

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170 academics sign open letter expressing concern about academic freedom in Singapore

At least 170 academics have voiced concern about academic freedom in Singapore, with several saying that diverse views should be encouraged & not quashed.

The academics based in Singapore & abroad have signed an open letter on the issue, in which they also defended historian Thum Ping Tjin, who was questioned for six hours last month by a parliamentary committee looking into the subject of deliberate online falsehoods.

The letter, addressed to the committee's chairman, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong, welcomes public hearings on the dissemination of fake news. It, however, expressed concern over how Law a& Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, a committee member, "proceeded to interrogate Dr Thum, treating him and his widely-respected scholarship with disdain".

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Select Committee owes Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a public apology

In 1986, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said to senior lawyer Mr Lim Chor Pee at the Select Committee hearing on the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill: “Mr Lim, you are not like Miss Teo. You were trained in a very reputable school of law.…” (he was referring to University of Cambridge).

I was seated in the room, listening to the insults and getting pretty angry. He not only insulted me, a graduate of the University of Singapore but also his panelist, Professor S Jayakumar, a former Dean of the Law School. But true to his character, Lee Kuan Yew didn’t care about the reputation of others when he wanted to make his point. He didn’t care about damaging the reputation of the only university his government inherited from the British. And the university authority accepted the insult without a murmur.

Mr Lim must have felt the warm, collegiate Cambridge feeling and fawned towards the prime minister. He was completely swept off the ground when the prime minister said to him:

“…Let’s be honest as one graduate of the Cambridge Law School to another. Would you like really to stand up before the Privy Council and advance this argument? [The argument was that a Judicial Service Commission has been provided for in the Singapore Constitution but not implemented.
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Why historian PJ Thum was Shanmugamed for nearly 6 hours
In future, a term will be added to the Singapore political lexicon

Shanmugamed: v. To demolish (an argument or someone) completely, through aggressive questioning in great detail for hours.

To fully understand why Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam spent close to six hours questioning historian Thum Ping Tjin, you must first read Thum’s submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which he shared on Medium. More importantly, you should pay attention to this part of his submission:
There is clear source of “fake news” which has spread falsehoods, with major impact, and hitherto escaped sanction. That is the politicians of Singapore’s People’s Action Party. The major examples of this are the numerous detentions under the Internal Security Act (ISA, and its predecessor, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance) from 1963 to 1987. Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state. Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie.Emphasis ours

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Minister K. Shanmugam grills research fellow Thum Ping Tjin and says he is not an objective historian

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam spent close to 6 hours on Thursday (March 29) mounting a case that research fellow Thum Ping Tjin had fallen short of the standards of an objective historian, when he accused the People's Action Party of using fake news to detain political opponents.

In particular, the minister grilled Dr Thum on a research paper he had written about the historical circumstances surrounding Operation Coldstore carried out in 1963, when more than 100 alleged leftist leaders & trade unionists were arrested & detained.

Dr Thum contends there is no evidence that the detainees were involved in any violent communist conspiracy to overthrow the Singapore Government.

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The thumping of PJ Thum
Academics back Thum Ping Tjin over ‘fake news’ hearing. (Gov.sg video screenshot)

I had wondered how the parliamentary Select Committee would respond to the academics’ petition about their colleague, Dr P J Thum. When the riposte came, I was somewhat surprised at the accusations. They were about how Dr Thum and his fellow academic, Dr Philip Kreager, were “subverting the parliamentary processes’’ of a sovereign nation.

What were the accusations based on?
  • Dr Thum had “input’’ in the statement drafted by Project Southeast Asia as well as the open letter signed by academics round the word. Both had called for an apology from the committee for maligning his credentials and his work. Dr Thum is the Project’s “co-ordinator’, while Dr Kreager is the chairman. Dr Kreager was also shown to be actively lobbying on Dr Thum’s behalf.
  • Both men are also the only two directors of Observatory Southeast Asia UK Ltd, which had received US$75,000 in funding from an entity connected to Mr George Soros, the billionaire financier who has a penchant for interfering in the affairs of other countries. The company, which the G claims has a political agenda, had tried unsuccessfully to set up a Singapore branch. Hence, they were not just academic colleagues but business partners and political activists as well.
  • Given the similarity between the statement and the online petition that secured the signatures of 280 academics round the world, Mr Charles Chong, who chairs the select committee, implied that the petition was authored by Dr Thum or Dr Kreager or both. In other words, it wasn’t a spontaneous academic outpouring of support for Dr Thum’s “battle against parliamentarians in an ex-colony’’.
The committee’s responses left me befuddled.

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Parliamentary Committee on Fake News
'If you do not know your history you would be like monkeys amok and running in the dark.'

Chances are, even if you don’t really follow politics, you might have heard about the six-hour grilling session between Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam and historian Thum Ping Tjin.

The session, held in the last week of March, as well as its ensuing discussion, triggered a video response from ex-political detainee and former assistant secretary-general of the Barisan Sosialis party Poh Soo Kai, who “challenged the assertion” that Operation Coldstore was conducted on grounds of national security.

Poh was one of more than 100 people detained under Operation Coldstore in 1963. Later on, he was detained again, under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1976 and 1982.

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Submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Parliament of Singapore

The definition of deliberate online falsehoods (or “fake news”) is extremely ambiguous. Sources are difficult to trace, difficult to prosecute, and domestic legislation will not stop foreign actors outside of Singapore. There is a surfeit of laws in Singapore which suppress free speech, and new legislation is not necessary as there is already existing legislation which can address “fake news”. Most of all, “fake news” has not, historically, had much of an impact in Singapore — with one major exception: the People’s Action Party government has, historically, spread “fake news” for narrow party-political gain. Given these problems, any solution to the problem of “fake news” must therefore start with the education of Singaporeans to be more skeptical of all information, regardless of source; the diversification of responsible news sources; and greater transparency in government and accountability for those in official positions.

Accordingly, the chief measures recommended to combat “fake news” are:

  • The focusing of media literacy education on teaching Singaporeans to understand how the information industry works, to be politically aware, and to be skeptical of all information, regardless of source;
  • The repeal of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act 1974, and reform/repeal of other laws which suppress free speech;
  • A Freedom of Information Act which automatically declassifies all government documents after 25 years unless they are specifically retained; and,
  • The establishment of an independent government watchdog (Ombudsman) with the authority to investigate complaints against the government and censure government officials who mislead the public.

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Full Coverage:
Thum Ping Tjin 'must expect to be questioned' when views are put to
Thum Ping Tjin's Select Committee submission was a 'political piece
“Odd of Dr Thum to make political points then hide behind shield of
Thum Ping Tjin must expect to be questioned, says Charles Chong in
In full: Chairman of Select Committee on Deliberate Online ...
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Select Committee owes Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a public apology
170 academics sign open letter defend diverse views, historian Thum
Oxford academics say Thum is and remains a trained historian
Oxford clarifies Thum's role as that of research associate with school
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170 academics sign open letter expressing concern about academic
ACRA's allegations of foreign influence 'unfounded': New Naratif
Purposes of proposed firm clearly political in nature: Acra
Is Parliament's attempt to seek clarification on historian Thum's
Public query of Dr Thum's academic credentials, reeks of attempt by
Acra rebutts duo behind New Naratif website over foreign influence
New Naratif's political activities appear to be funded by foreign entities
History is not the preserve of historians
“Your adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge
Operation Coldstore mounted for political, not security reasons, says
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Petitioning for PJ Thum – An Open Letter
PJ Thum and Ramakrishna: Dangers of a steamrolled narrative
Oxford historians come to defense of historian accused of subversion
Thum's submission a political piece, says Charles Chong
Arguments on Operation Coldstore remain substantially unchallenged
Historian Thum defends work, maintains Operation Coldstore was
Oxford academics say Thum Ping Tjin 'is and remains an academically
Oxford academics defend historian Thum's academic credentials
Historian Thum Ping Tjin appears to be involved in coordinated
Charles Chong says historian Thum had 'engineered' support
Charles Chong to Oxford: “frankly presumptuous of you to tell
The thumping of PJ Thum
Larger point made in submission still stands: Thum
Thum Ping Tjin is research associate with anthropology school: Oxford
More than 130 academics sign open letter in support of historian Thum
Parliament asks Thum Ping Tjin to 'clarify his academic credentials'
Parliament asks Thum Ping Tjin to clarify academic credentials
Acra rejects company application from Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han
ACRA rejects bid by Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han to register foreign
Allegations of conspiring with historian Thum to subvert parliamentary
When FAKE NEWS Becomes A Meaningless Cry
Let's get the psychology of debate right
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Foreign interests should not get involved in Singapore politics
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Rules of debate must also be adhered to
TODAY's evening brief for Wednesday, May 2
Smear campaign against Dr Thum waged through anonymous emails
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Gather facts to forge consensus on history: Koh Poh Koon
Complaint to the Select Committee on online falsehoods
Select Committee on online falsehoods should engage all NGOs in good faith
Submission on the Singapore government’s plan to regulate fake news
Allegations of conspiring with historian Thum subvert parliamentary processes
Charles Chong says historian Thum ‘engineered’ support for himself, part of
Thum can’t make political points, then hide behind academia: Charles Chong
Thum Ping Tjin ‘engineered’ academic support for himself after hearing
The thumping of PJ Thum
SINGAPORE: Open Letter on PJ Thum and Academic Freedom in Spore
Charles Chong to Oxford: “frankly presumptuous of you to tell Singapore
Historian Thum and RSIS academic trade fresh criticisms over
Thum can't make political points, then hide behind academia: Charles
Thum Ping Tjin must expect to be questioned, says Charles Chong in
Oxford academics defend historian Thum's academic credential
Oxford academics say Thum Ping Tjin 'is and remains an academically
Oxford academics say Thum is and remains a trained historian
Allegations of conspiring with historian Thum to subvert parliamentary
Historian suspected of engineering academic support for himself
In full: Charles Chong says historian Thum had 'engineered' support
TODAY's evening brief for Wednesday, May 2
Historian Thum Ping Tjin appears to be involved in coordinated
SINGAPORE: Open Letter on PJ Thum and Academic Freedom in

Open letter by 284 academics sent to Charles Chong to express concerns


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