Skip to content

#31: Heng ah, I haven't kena defamation. (Not yet.)

My heart is heavy for my country this week; defamation cases are coming out of the woodwork and I think we’re going to be in for a rough ride civil liberties-wise.

If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter, click here to subscribe and get updates sent to your inbox every Saturday morning. If you have any feedback, just hit reply!


Political succession in Singapore is clear as mud but the People’s Action Party have announced the office-bearers in their central executive committee. After all that speculation over Chan Chun Sing becoming the next prime minister, it seems as if it’s Heng Swee Keat who has come out tops after all. But Chan fans need not worry, because they’re going to work together, as we can see from this CNA photo of them looking like two elite school boys who’ve just found out you can score extra CCA points by joining the (Chinese) chess club:

Anyway, the fawning has begun in the mainstream media. “Heng Swee Keat: Driven to excel, with a consultative approach,” The Straits Times gushes. “Heng Swee Keat: The man who saw Singaporean through the financial crisis,” declares TODAY.

*sigh*, they might have short memories, but don’t worry Tharman, I’ll still remember ‘chu.

That said, some have predicted that the transition is going to be accompanied by a clamp down on critical or dissenting voices (see the last issue), and so this week also saw…

So many defamation cases it’s positively criminal

On Tuesday morning, five police officers went to the home of Terry Xu, chief editor of The Online Citizen, and seized his computers, laptops, mobile devices and hard drives as part of an investigation into alleged criminal defamation. He was then questioned from from 3:30pm to 11:30pm—according to Terry, the police only asked about 14 questions, and there were long breaks in between, which is why it took so long.

The offending article was a readers’ letter that TOC had published earlier this year. But the Infocomm Media Development Authority had already sent Terry a letter in September ordering him to take the article down, and Terry complied. For some reason, that didn’t satisfy the iMDA and they filed a police report for criminal defamation on 4 October, thus leading to Tuesday’s seizure and interrogation that’s led to TOC going on hiatus. Everyone read what former political detainee Teo Soh Lung has to say about this.

But TOC isn’t the only case this week. NTUC Foodfare is also suing The Independent Singapore for defamation over two articles they published about stall operators in a food court at Changi Airport operated by NTUC Foodfare. One article alleged that an elderly stall operator had died of overwork, while another said that NTUC Foodfare had fined a stall operator S$3,500 for closing their stall because of medical issues. They’d sent TISG a letter of demand but TISG refused to take down the stories and apologise. One of the hawkers involved then reached out to and reading the story made my blood boil.

(For those who don’t already know, NTUC stands for National Trades Union Congress. So yes, we’re talking about the trade union participating in practices that really screw with workers. 🤬)

I’ve heard of more defamation-related investigations and lawsuits, although I haven’t got consent from those involved to mention their names—I’ll add it to the next newsletter when I get their consent to publicise the case/have more information.

Got some more…

Everyone thinks the elections are going to be called next year, and ministers telling public officers to “go out and engage the ground” are a tell-tale sign. Also, there’s going to be electronic voter registration and mechanical vote-counting.

Everything about this story is heart-breaking. A domestic worker who was forced to work long hours with no days off reached her wits’ end and killed the baby in her charge.

The government is definitely finding the STR “fake news” saga (see last issue) useful to set up the narrative for their impending anti-fake news legislation.

Png Eng Huat brought up the People’s Association lapses uncovered by the Auditor-General’s Office, prompting a testy exchange with Chan Chun Sing in Parliament.

Stop the presses, the National Council of Churches Singapore have just discovered that Christmas has been commercialised. They don’t like the Disney Christmas lights at Orchard Road.

Events and Announcements

If you have some time this afternoon, come by the launch of Teo Soh Lung’s book Creatures Big and Small: Poems and Drawings from Behind the Blue Gate. It’s her new book of poetry and art from her time in detention in 1987, and she’s kindly decided to direct the proceeds from the launch to New Naratif.

About the neighbours…