#2: Conservation, helplines, tragedy, contempt and drama
When I first came up with the idea for this newsletter, I wasn't sure if there would be enough material for a weekly thing. But this issue filled up by Tuesday; I was telling friends, "I really hope nothing more happens this week or I'll be sending everyone a massive email..."
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Heritage and development
Here's a nice long interview with architect Dr Lai Chee Kien, touching on conservation, history, heritage, architecture, city-planning and how the spaces and places around us affect our sense of identity and connection to Singapore.
It's something I've recently been mulling over after reading Christopher DeWolf's Borrowed Spaces: Life Between the Cracks of Modern Hong Kong, which I couldn't help relating to Singapore's experience. What have we lost as a society with the clearance of the Sungei Road Flea Market, for instance? An elderly hawker, formerly at Sungei Road, talks about how he's in a fix because the National Environment Agency won't give him permission to hawk legally.
A new helpline for LBTQI women
Brave Spaces, a new non-profit dedicated to research, advocacy and providing services to empower women, launched a new helpline for LBTQI women on 2 May. This is the first full-time helpline catering to the needs of LBTQI women in Singapore, providing support for LBTQI women and transgender men. It's open from Mondays to Fridays, from 3pm–9.30pm (except public holidays). There's also an email service for non-emergency cases.
Brave Spaces' helpline number: 8788 8817
Helpline enquiries email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, resources are needed to run such programmes, so if you'd like to support Brave Spaces and their new helpline, please consider sending a few dollars (or more!) their way.
An "additional Christian voice"
The Alliance of Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of Singapore was launched on 19 April to create a "unified and collective front" when engaging with the government or addressing "various societal issues and concerns", according toThe Straits Times (paywall). A new church group isn't necessarily an issue in itself, but I bring it up because there are fears that this "additional Christian voice" will become yet lobby against any progress towards LGBT equality in Singapore.
Reverend Yang Tuck Yoong from Cornerstone Community Church, one of the founding members of the Alliance, is known for his anti-gay views. In 2013, a police report was filed against him for a post in which he urged the church to be "battle-ready" on the LGBT issues, describing it as a "war". He edited the post later.
Cornerstone Community Church is also the local organiser of Kingdom Invasion, where American preacher Lou Engle spoke to the assembled congregation about the need to counter Islam. The church had to apologise for Engle's anti-Islam comments, but not before they filed a police report against RICE Media for this piece.
Another case of contempt on Facebook?
Jolovan Wham, currently Singapore's most famous "recalcitrant", might be put in the naughty chair again. The Attorney-General's Chambers has filed an originating summons in the High Court for leave to apply for an order of committal against him for allegedly scandalising the judiciary in a Facebook post in which he said that "Malaysia's judges are more independent than Singapore's for cases with political implications."
The AGC's statement to the court, which isn't public (but I've seen it), says that Jolovan's statement impugns "the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore courts", and that it "poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore would be undermined".
A continuing drama post-Select Committee
Charles Chong, the chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, has issued another statement. This time, he's alleging that historian Dr Thum Pingtjin (and my colleage at New Naratif) "engineered" support for himself, via a statement from Project Southeast Asia at Oxford and an open letter signed by academics, in a "coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes." The claim has since been rubbished by Dr Philip Kreager, chair of Project Southeast Asia. PJ's Oxford co-supervisors and examiners have also issued a statement backing up his credentials.
This is the latest instalment of a never-ending saga that has been going on since PJ's six-hour appearance before the Select Committee—he was subject to public humiliation, his credentials have been questioned, our application to register a Singapore subsidiary of the company that publishesNew Naratif has been publicly denied... and now this.
While all this is going on... I think it's a good time to remind everyone that we still don't know what the official definition of "deliberate online falsehoods" or "fake news" is... which is a pretty important part of the whole discussion on what to do about "deliberate online falsehoods" or "fake news"...
LKYSPP, Facebook and an informed community
While on the subject of "fake news"... On 3–4 May, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Facebook co-organised a workshop bringing together "key stakeholders including policymakers, academics, publishers, online platforms, civil society and fact‐checking organisations" to look at how to deal with online disinformation. It was a private, invite-only event (not on LKYSPP's website), with participants from around the region.
Regional government representatives shared their views on "fake news" and disinformation, Facebook talked about what it's doing about the problem, civil society (although, from what I understand, not Singapore's civil society) shared their perspectives. The findings will be "collated in a document to be shared broadly with individuals and organisations that are addressing this issue across Southeast Asia."
Rest In Peace, Dave Lee
On 30 April, the Ministry of Defence confirmed the death of 19-year-old Dave Lee, who showed signs of heat injury after completing an 8km fast march on 18 April. He'd been in intensive care since then, and passed away on 30 April.
An account, apparently from one of his peers, shared by Dave's aunt on Facebook raises troubling questions: it claims that army officers hadn't observed the proper protocol and hadn't taken Dave's condition very seriously. As with other training-related deaths, a Committee of Inquiry will be convened to look into the death.
Dave's tragic passing has triggered recollections of another awful conscript death—that of Dominique Sarron Lee, who died in 2012 after an allergic reaction to the fumes from smoke grenades used during training. The officers in that case were found guilty of negligence, and were punished by having their promotions delayed.
And now for a visual break:
An oldie-but-goldie in honour of the Singlish-speaking Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say stepping down from his Cabinet position
Migrant worker issues
Migrant rights NGO TWC2 will have its monthly research forum on 10 May. This month, their research team will be sharing the work they've done thus far: they'll cover data based on the cases of injured workers who go to their soup kitchen, their archives project, their research on recruitment costs and the 2018 research strategy. Register here to attend.
Paint homes on Ubin
There's still a call for volunteers to paint homes on Pulau Ubin on 12 May!
Pasar Glamour is a very stylish charitable effort by Pam Oei, Petrina Kow and Janice Koh—they raid the wardrobes of their fashionable friends to flog pretty, shiny, brand name items for charity. They'll be at the National Design Centre on 12 and 13 May.
A send-off for a mama shop
Cheng Xing Mama Shop has been operating in Geylang for a whopping 70 years, but the auntie running it has decided to call it a day. There'll be an open house and auction on 13 May.
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