SINGAPORE: After being questioned for about six 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 two trustees of a group called Project Southeast Asia.
The group, which is made up mainly of foreign academics, had on Apr 16 issued a statement online in support of Dr Thum, expressing similar sentiments as that of the open letter.
Mr Chong responded to Project Southeast Asia on Apr 20.
However, the group’s email correspondence after that suggests that “there has been a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes”, said Mr Chong on Monday.
According to Project Southeast Asia’s website, Dr Thum is one of its seven trustees.
APPEARANCE OF “SPONTANEOUS SUPPORT” IS “MISLEADING”: CHARLES CHONG
Mr Chong came to know of the email exchange between the two trustees of Project Southeast Asia because the Parliament Secretariat was copied in it – apparently inadvertently, he said. Other trustees except Dr Thum were copied in it as well.
In the email on Apr 21, Professor Jeff Burley wrote to Dr Philip Kreager, saying:
“Has PJ seen all the correspondence? If so, what is his response to this official message from Singapore? There comes a point in any discussion like this where you can just draw a line and say we tried. Pursuing things to the bitter end is more likely to be bitter for us than for a government and the University is unlikely to want a pitched battle.”
Dr Kreager replied the next day, saying:
“I have kept continuous contact with PJ on all of this, he has amongst other things suggested a draft reply for me, which I will turn to on return ... and which point I shall write to all the trustees on recent developments, which are several and positive.
"There is a lot of traction, but I need to think about next steps, which I can't just now, as the meeting is a small but intense historical workshop ... but there will be a lot of historians from the meeting who will be signing the petition, and I am hopeful that several of them will be circulating our statement and the online letter for signature to their many colleagues here.”
Dr Kreager’s email is “revealing”, said Mr Chong, adding that the emails “lift the curtain” on what has been happening in secret.
First, it “strongly suggests” that Dr Thum was involved in the statement of support by Project Southeast Asia, said Mr Chong. “If so, it is likely Dr Thum was involved in the open letter as well, since the open letter is remarkably similar to the statement by Project Southeast Asia, with similar misstatements,” he added.
In addition, Dr Kreager was “actively campaigning” for Dr Thum and the two “apparently have been working closely together throughout this process", said Mr Chong.
He added that the statement by Project Southeast Asia and the open letter “give an appearance of spontaneous academic support for Dr Thum in his battle against parliamentarians in an ex-colony”.
“Dr Kreager’s email suggests this appearance is misleading. The ‘support’ seems to have been primarily engineered by Dr Thum himself, working in close concert with Dr Kreager,” said Mr Chong.
THE DR KREAGER CONNECTION
Mr Chong pointed out that Dr Kreager and Dr Thum are the only two directors of a company called Observatory Southeast Asia UK (OSEA UK), which received money from entities linked to George Soros.
OSEA UK had also intended to set up a subsidiary in Singapore to, among other things, provide editorial services to New Naratif, which carries political articles on Singapore. But the application to register the subsidiary was rejected as it was deemed contrary to Singapore’s interests.
“Dr Kreager and Dr Thum are thus not mere academic colleagues. They are also business partners and fellow activists engaged in a political project directed at Singaporeans,” said Mr Chong.
He added: “We must protect our independence and 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.”