Was she told to continue with her lie? How video testimonies of Raeesah Khan and Pritam Singh differ
SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh and former Sengkang MP Raeesah Khan have given two starkly different versions of what happened after Ms Khan told a lie in Parliament in an August sitting.
They have shared their accounts with the Committee of Privileges (COP) and the full videos of their testimonies were made available to the public.
What happened before the COP hearings
On Aug 3, the Workers' Party raised a motion in Parliament on empowering women. Ms Khan delivered a speech in which she claims she accompanied a victim of sexual assault to a police station, alleging that the police mishandled the case.
In September, Ms Khan came down with shingles and did not attend Parliament.
She was next in Parliament on Oct 4 when Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam asked her to provide more details. She declined to do so, citing the need for confidentiality.
She also said she had not been successful in contacting the victim.
On Oct 20, the police said they had not been able to identify the case of sexual assault that Ms Khan mentioned. They added that Ms Khan did not respond to requests to provide more details.
At the Parliament sitting on Nov 1, Ms Khan made a bombshell admission that she had lied in Parliament about the account, and had not accompanied a victim to the police station as claimed. She also apologised to the Singapore Police Force.
She said she was sexually assaulted when she was 18 and she had lied because she did not want to reveal that she had heard the anecdote in a support group.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said she had "no choice" but to raise a formal complaint against Ms Khan for breaching her parliamentary privilege.
On Nov 2, WP announced that it had formed a disciplinary panel to look into Ms Khan's admissions. The panel comprised Mr Singh, party chair Sylvia Lim and vice-chair Faisal Manap.
In the course of its work, the panel invited party members to share their views on the issue before it submitted its report to the central executive committee for deliberation.
On Nov 30, Ms Khan resigned from the Workers' Party and as an MP.
In Ms Khan’s testimony on Dec 2, lasting nearly two hours, she said that WP leaders instructed her to “retain the narrative”, which she interpreted to mean she should keep lying.
She also messaged two of her close associates that Mr Singh, WP chair Sylvia Lim and vice-chair Faisal Manap had told her to take the untruth “to the grave”.
Mr Singh was questioned for about nine hours and he made it clear that no such instruction was given. He said he had told Ms Khan to “take ownership and responsibility” of the matter, and that it was clear to him that meant telling the truth.
Here are snippets of what they have said about key events in the lead up to the COP hearings:
A CONFESSION ON AUG 8
This is Ms Khan’s account of when she first told the WP leaders that she had lied in Parliament:
“The first time that I gave any sense that it was an untruth was on Aug 7, and it was a short phone call, which then was followed by a meeting at Pritam Singh’s house with the chair, Sylvia Lim, and vice-chair Faisal Manap.”
At this meeting on Aug 8, she told them that she had lied in Parliament, and she did so because she did not want to reveal that she had been in a support group for survivors of sexual assault.
When asked what was their reaction, she said: “It was incredible disappointment. There was a lot of anger but I think there was some compassion there as well. The reaction was that if I were not to be pressed, then the best thing to do would be to retain the narrative that I began in August.”
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minster for Law Edwin Tong, who has been leading the questioning at the COP, asked if that meant “if you can get away with it, we don't have to clarify the lie, correct?”
Ms Khan said: “I think in simple, in the simplest terms, yes, you're correct.”
Mr Tong responded: “And so the Workers’ Party leadership was present there. Their initial reaction to being told that there was a lie or falsehood said in Parliament, was to try and duck the issue if possible. And if it doesn't come up, then the truth may not be told eventually. Correct?”
Ms Khan said: “I have to say, though, that Pritam Singh’s initial response was that I should go to the Committee of Privileges. But after discussions, and me explaining the circumstances that led me to the information in the first place, that changed.”
Ms Khan said there was no exchange of emails, documents or WhatsApp chats that would corroborate her version of this meeting.
In contrast, Mr Singh said there was no decision made for Ms Khan to “retain the narrative”.
He recounted that on Aug 8, Ms Khan started "crying straight away" and told them she was sexually assaulted when she was 18 years old. He said that he, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal were “shocked” to hear this.
Mr Singh said: “And because it was very traumatic for her, she told the untruth in Parliament, because she feels strongly about, you know, issues of sexual assault and arising from there, she did what she did in Parliament. That was the gist of it.”
He asked Ms Khan if anyone knew about the assault. She said her husband knew and so did her close associates, Mr Yudhishthra Nathan and Ms Loh Pei Ying, as well as her therapist.
Mr Singh added: “The conversation actually was very short. And I told her, I said, you have to speak to your parents about this … She said okay … I mean, she was just crying and crying. And you know, that's where we left it.”
TEXT MESSAGE: TAKE LIE TO THE GRAVE
On Aug 8, Ms Khan sent Ms Loh and Mr Nathan, both longtime WP members, a text message in a group chat about her meeting with Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal.
It read: “Hey guys, I just met pritam, Sylvia and Faisal. And we spoke about the Muslim issue and the police accusation. I told them what I told you guys, and they’ve agreed that the best thing to do is to take the information to the grave. They also suggested that I write a statement to send out this evening.”
When confronted with the message at the COP hearing, Mr Singh said: “It would be highly inaccurate. It is a complete lie.”
When Mr Tong asked Mr Singh why Ms Khan might have lied, Mr Singh revealed that Ms Khan told the WP disciplinary panel on Nov 29 that she suffers from “disassociation”.
Mr Singh said: “It was the first time I heard of it. I asked her what disassociation was, she said: ‘It's when I talk without thinking.’ And I asked her: ‘Don't you think that's dangerous for an MP?’ And she said: ‘Yes.’”
He then suggested that the COP call for a psychiatric report or evaluation of Ms Khan.
Mr Tong then said: "I was very careful before I started this line of inquiry to ask you if you thought that there was anything untoward, unusual about Ms Khan's performance as an MP."
He said a little later: “I really think It is quite inappropriate to bring that up and to suggest for this committee to seek a psychiatric assessment of Ms Khan.”
As part of the exchange, Mr Singh retorted: “Mr Tong … what you want to believe and what you want to take into account is your prerogative. You asked me a question: ‘Why?’ And I've given an answer. You don't want to deal with it, you want to ignore it? That's your call.”
DID PRITAM SINGH LEAVE THE CHOICE TO RAEESAH KHAN?
There was extensive questioning about a meeting that Mr Singh and Ms Khan had on Oct 3 at her house. This happened a day before a Parliament sitting where Ms Khan repeated the lie when questioned in the House.
Ms Khan said she was told by Mr Singh that “there would be no judgment” if she “continued the narrative”.
This is Ms Khan’s version of events: “Before the October sitting, I had a conversation with Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh. And the conversation was that if I were to retain the narrative, or if I were to continue the narrative, there would be no judgment.”
Mr Tong asked: "The discussion for you to retain the narrative, and there'll be no judgment. Can you give me your interpretation of that? What do you make of that statement?”
Said Ms Khan: “My interpretation was that there would be no consequences for me to continue the narrative that I had begun … in August.”
Mr Singh told the COP that he had told her no such thing. This was what he said: “I tell her, look, I am not sure what is going to happen with this thing … this anecdote that you've told. But it is entirely possible that there could be a clarification made, somebody may ask you something about it. And it is important that you take responsibility and take ownership of the issue…
“She started getting a bit uncomfortable when I said that. And then I told her, I will not judge you. And ‘I will not judge you’ meant I will not judge you if you take responsibility and ownership.”
He added: “That was the gist of the conversation. I didn't get the sense that she was going to be uncomfortable with telling the truth. She never communicated anything of that sort to me. And at no point did she say: ‘Pritam? I don't know what to do, please help me. I need guidance, I need advice.’ Nothing of that sort.”
Mr Singh was questioned about his choice of words at this meeting several times.
At one point, Mr Tong asked him: “I'm putting it to you that, actually the conversation on Oct 3 should have been a very simple one: 'Ms Khan, regardless of whether it comes up tomorrow, you are now in Parliament tomorrow, shingles is over in September. You should clarify it – stand up and clarify it.'”
Mr Singh replied: “I think I made that clear to her – you can disagree but that’s my evidence.”
TO REPLY TO THE POLICE OR NOT?
Ms Khan also said Mr Singh and Ms Lim directed her not to reply to queries from the police about her anecdote but the party leaders denied that.
Ms Khan said she forwarded an email she received from the police on Oct 7 to them, asking for advice.
Mr Tong asked her what had made them decide not to reply to the police, to which Ms Khan said: “I think the decision was because there was no reason for me to have to go to the police station. I think it was a request and … since it was a request, I would not have to go.”
He then asked: “To not even reply to the police? Was that something that Mr Singh agreed with? To ignore the police and to not even reply to the police?”
Ms Khan replied: “That was the directive, yes.”
When asked if the party leadership explained what the reason was, Ms Khan said: “No, they did not. Yes, they did. But the reasons are very brief and that was that they could not come compel a Member of Parliament, or they could not force a Member of Parliament to visit the police.”
When asked about this by Mr Tong, Mr Singh said he didn't direct Ms Khan not to respond to the police. He also did not tell Ms Khan to respond to the police, but said that Parliament was the right forum to correct the mistake.
“In the course of our communication about the police, the police request, I said: ‘Look, I think this is something that you should correct in Parliament,’” said Mr Singh.
Mr Tong said therefore Ms Khan was right in saying that she was directed by Mr Singh not to go to the police.
Mr Singh replied: “I wouldn’t go so far. She's a Member of Parliament, she sought this legal advice on her own. She could, if she felt that my advice was irrelevant, and that actually she wanted to go to the police, there was nothing I could have done to stop her.”
Mr Singh is referring to the fact that Ms Khan had sought legal advice on her situation after Oct 4, when she repeated the lie in Parliament.
“IT WAS YOUR CALL”
Mr Singh was called back by the COP on Dec 15 to clarify what he had meant when he said “it was your call” to Ms Khan at a WP disciplinary panel hearing on Nov 29.
Ms Lim had submitted notes that she had taken of that meeting to the COP, containing that exchange, although Ms Khan’s account of that panel hearing did not mention this.
According to Ms Khan, she had called for that meeting because she wanted to explain and reply to remarks made in a prior disciplinary panel meeting on her performance as an MP.
She said: “I outlined my successes and even my challenges as a Member of Parliament, including my work on the ground and in Parliament.”
Mr Tong asked if there was any discussion on her speech containing the false anecdote delivered on Aug 3.
“There was, but the discussion was that I had made a mistake and it had cost the party deeply,” Ms Khan said.
When he asked what her response to that was, she said: “I agree.”
She said that after she left the meeting, her personal decision was that she should resign. She quit the party and as an MP the next day.
Ms Lim was interviewed by the COP on Dec 13 and she highlighted her notes from the Nov 29 meeting where they mentioned the Oct 3 meeting between Ms Khan and Mr Singh.
“And the question was put to her by Mr Singh as follows, he says: ‘Before the October session, I met you and I told you that it was your call, did the need to tell the truth in Parliament occur to you?’
“And her response was, yes. But I was consumed with guilt and my own experience, and I thought that it wouldn't come up.”
Ms Lim went on: “Mr Singh says to her: ‘You can't lie. Right?’ And then she says: ‘Yes.’”
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin asked Ms Lim what Mr Singh meant by “it was your call” and if “it was really up to her to decide what to do”.
Ms Lim said: “I don't know the context, but he phrased it in this way.” She highlighted that Mr Singh also said: “But you can't lie. Right?”
Mr Singh said on Dec 15 that what he had meant when he said “your call” was that Ms Khan should take responsibility for her work in Parliament.
“I can see why the word ‘your call’ gives the suggestion that it's a choice for her to make … but in the context of how I put it to Ms Khan at the DP, and in particular, the question that I followed up with, I mean, 'you really can't tell a lie, can you?'
"I think the whole, the entire context of the discussion on Oct 3 really comes back to Ms Khan, having to take ownership and responsibility for this issue, which I believe I communicated to her quite clearly.”