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#58: History is political and contested. Funny that. 🧐

I’m trying to get back into the routine of working again, after all these weeks of being on the move. Yesterday I spoke at the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh about POFMA and the political context in Singapore—thank you to all who came!

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History is hard.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has put his foot in it. In paying tribute to the late former Thailand Prime Minister and Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, he’d referenced the 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia (which ended Pol Pot’s murderous regime), saying that the five (at the time) ASEAN member countries had come together “to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the  Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge. […] This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised.” He also referenced it in his Shangri-La Dialogue keynote speech.

This has triggered the displeasure of both the Vietnamese government and Hun Sen’s Cambodian government (Hun Sen being a former Khmer Rouge official who’d fled the regime during its internal purges and then became one of the rebel leaders sponsored by the Vietnamese government at the time). Today, both the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments insist that the Vietnamese had liberated the Cambodians from a genocidal regime (and indeed over a million people had lost their lives). Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has said that Lee’s comments “did not objectively reflect the historical truth”. In his ire, Hun Sen has gone as far as to accuse Singapore of supporting the Khmer Rouge genocide.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now trying to calm things down, issuing a statement to say in no uncertain terms that “Singapore had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge”. Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has also made calls to both his counterparts in Vietnam and Cambodia to make sure that we’re all still friends.

Turns out, it’s possible to have contested accounts of history, especially when it involves governments and politicians with vested political interests. Who would have thought, huh?

POFMA karma

So I’ll admit that, after the PAP has insisted that it’s easy to be able to discern whether something is a “false statement of fact” or not, and after they subjected historian Dr PJ Thum to six hours of harassment because of his research, there is some schadenfreude over this hullabaloo with Vietnam and Cambodia. I’m not the only one, either:

On the issue of POFMA, Mohan Dutta has written for the Asia Media Centre about the law and his concerns. This op-ed in the New York Times also points out the issues of surveillance that comes with POFMA.


The acquittal of Nigerian Adili Chibuike Ejike is going to make an impact on future cases, lawyers say. The prosecution had initially argued that he’d been “wilfully blind” but the Court of Appeal disagreed. This means that if the prosecution accepts that the individual didn’t know he had drugs in his possession, then the presumption clause in the Misuse of Drugs Act can’t apply.

Got some more…

Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party has had to be delayed because the permits for the launch haven’t been approved yet.

An NUS study has found that there are 210,000 men who have sex with men in Singapore and could be at risk of HIV, more than double an earlier estimate. But with S377A in place and discrimination in society, there might be substantial transmission error “where there is the possibility that members of the hidden population  groups might not divulge membership to some of their contacts.”

There’s an interview with performance artist Seelan Palay about his work, especially the piece that landed him in prison most recently.

Last but not least, Ng Kok Hoe has been on fire recently writing about inequality and meeting needs.

About the neighbours…

Here’s an op-ed on freedom of expression in Brunei that Singaporeans might find a tad familiar…

Related shameless plug: New Naratif is running a promo at the moment where an annual subscription will get you six months’ free membership to Malaysiakini!