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Solidarity with Ukraine 🇺🇦, exhausted healthcare workers, and spyware

This week: Singapore condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, healthcare workers struggle with heavy caseload, and more questions about spyware and the state.

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
5 min read

Too many things happening all the time too quickly. There's so much to take in all the time; please remember to make time for rest and joyful things! As I'm continually learning, it's only when you're taking care of yourself that you'll be in a better place to look out for others.


In solidarity with Ukraine 🇺🇦

Before we get into anything this week, we should be paying attention and sending solidarity to Ukraine. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement saying that "Singapore strongly condemns any unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext." The Ukrainian ambassador to Singapore has called for solidarity and support, urging coordinated sanctions.

I'm also sharing some links that I found informative or helpful, starting with Ros Atkins' three-minute explainer:

This was written pre-invasion, but this piece by historian Timothy Snyder (who specialises in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Holocaust) was very insightful on nationality and identity. He's since also provided links to organisations you can donate to. On Twitter, I saw this link on resources and other places you can contribute to floating around.


Healthcare workers struggling amid the Omicron wave

As of 23 February, we have 1,615 people hospitalised due to Covid, with 44 in intensive care. This might not sound like a staggering number, but there's a strain on demand for hospital beds, and you've got to remember that there are a ton of people who have mild symptoms and don't need hospitalisation, but are nonetheless heading to the polyclinics and hospitals so that they can get their Covid status officially recorded. This might be because they work for employers who require medical certificates when they take sick leave.

Healthcare workers are having a tough time. They're exhausted, and many non-Singaporean workers haven't seen their families in ages. @thehonesthealthcareworker's Instagram account is not a pretty read.

Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung says that the government will encourage employers not to require medical certificates, and also for people with mild symptoms to just recover at home.


Spyware and "state-sponsored attackers"

This was from the week before, but bears mention given that there was no wrap last weekend. Sylvia Lim of the Workers' Party revealed in Parliament that she'd received a threat notification from Apple saying that her iPhone might have been targeted by "state-sponsored attackers". Apple had previously announced that it was sending out such notifications, and that it was taking the spy firm NSO Group to court.

Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said he'd checked with the Security and Intelligence Division and stated that state agencies had not hacked Lim's phone. He then insinuated that she had some ulterior motive for bringing the matter up in Parliament instead of reporting it to the police: "Now, I think if one is serious about such threats, the proper way to do it, if you are serious about finding out if your phone has been hacked and by whom, is to come to (MHA). We will do a thorough investigation... If you raise it in Parliament, then we must assume the intention is to publicise the fact rather than actually get to the bottom of it, and it's obvious then why it is made public."

Shanmugam also asked the police to follow up with Lim, ostensibly because the notification is very serious and could have national security implications. The police suggested that she hand her phone over to them so that they can conduct investigations. They said they'd been directed to hire a commercial organisation with relevant expertise to conduct checks, and also to implement a transparent process.

If you're an opposition politician in a country where the ruling party has a history of being hostile to its political opponents, and where there have been multiple reports that the state has invested big money in spyware, and you receive a threat notification saying you might have been targeted by "state-sponsored attackers", you do not — I repeat, YOU DO NOT — lodge a police report, much less hand your whole damn phone over to law enforcement. It would make zero sense to give your phone to the police, I cannot emphasise this enough!

It doesn't matter if the government claims that state agencies weren't behind it. Firstly, given how little transparency there is (see tweet I've embedded below), there's no way to verify this claim. Secondly, the notification mentioned state-sponsored attackers, which doesn't necessarily have to mean that the state agnecies are doing the hacking themselves. And even if you're willing to take the government claims at face value, you still don't give them your phone because as long as there is a non-zero chance that it might be the state, they should be nowhere near any such investigation! There are independent expert groups, such as Citizen Lab, who are able to conduct such forensic analysis (and, from what I understand, might not even need your actual phone to do so, just some logs).

Anyway, Sylvia Lim did eventually meet with the police, but said that she was satisfied with Shanmugam's answer and did not want to pursue the matter further, so the matter has been closed. Personally, I don't think Singaporeans should be satisfied with the answers we've got about whether or not the state uses spyware, but I can kind of see how she probably couldn't have said anything else without them intensifying demands that she hand over her phone.


Jolovan gets sentenced, again

Jolovan Wham has been sentenced to a fine of $3,000 — or 15 days in prison in lieu — for having posed outside the State Courts for 15 seconds to take this photo:

He will be appealing this decision. Meanwhile, the prosecution has withdrawn the illegal assembly charge against Jolovan in relation to his smiley face placard photo.


Death penalty updates

Roslan, Pausi and Rosman will have court hearings on 28 February, while Nagen's will be on 1 March. Fingers crossed for that things go well.

For more on the death penalty, please check out the past two special issues, here and here.


That's it for this week! May everyone get sufficient sleep to recharge and feel strong. 💪🏼

My cat Houdini hopes you have a good weekend!
Weekly Wraps

Kirsten Han Twitter

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.


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