SINGAPORE: Historian Thum Ping Tjin hit back on Monday (Sep 3) at criticism over his meeting with Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, slamming any notion that he was a traitor as “ridiculous and unfounded”.
In a Facebook post, Dr Thum said: “Any notion that I am a traitor to my country is ridiculous and unfounded. I love my country and my people. I believe democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of information will make Singapore and our world better.”
His response comes on the back of comments by Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng and Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam that took aim at the meeting on Thursday between a group of Singapore activists – led by Dr Thum and political dissident Tan Wah Piow - and the Malaysian leader.
The group included freelance journalist Kirsten Han, civil rights activist Jolovan Wham and graphic novelist Sonny Liew. At the meeting, Dr Mahathir was invited to speak at a democracy conference next year.
A day after his meeting with Dr Mahathir, Dr Thum posted on Facebook saying he had asked the Malaysian prime minister to take a leading role in promoting democracy and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia.
Mr Shanmugam on Sunday described Dr Thum’s actions as “a little sad, a bit regretful”, after Mr Seah said in a Facebook post that the historian “does not wish Singapore well”.
In his latest Facebook post, the historian said he will “never stop fighting for a Singapore that embraces these values and respects the dignity and rights of each and every individual”.
“I also believe in engagement on the basis of mutual respect,” he added.
Dr Thum went on to describe Malaysia as a “beacon of hope for democracy in Southeast Asia” and said he “expressed to Dr Mahathir the hope that many of us feel”.
He also made reference to comments he made during a public forum in Johor Bahru on Aug 18, where he said he did not want “Singapore to ‘do a Malaysia’ – I want Singapore to do a Singapore”.
He said: “The solution to many of Singapore’s problems lies with Singaporeans. But that does not preclude us from learning from others’ experiences to make our country better. Human rights are universal, and we can always aspire to improve the quality of our democracy.”
In March, Dr Thum and Mr Shanmugam had a six-hour exchange during a public hearing held by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods over the academic’s alternative interpretation of historical events such as Operation Coldstore.
Last Thursday's meeting between the activists and Dr Mahathir was organised with the help of Malaysian political activist Hishammuddin Rais, who was present and is also part of dissident Tan’s organisation - Forces for the Renewal of Southeast Asia.