Socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) is under police investigation for criminal defamation over allegations made in an article published in September.
Terry Xu, the TOC editor, had his publishing equipment seized and was subsequently brought in for police questioning at Police Cantonment Complex earlier on Nov. 20 at 3pm.
Five police officers showed up at Xu's house on Tuesday morning and seized his desktop computer, mobile devices and laptops.
A Facebook post put up by TOC said the site will be “on hiatus for the time being”, with “no confirmed date of return” provided:
Why was he arrested?
In response to media queries, the police elaborated on the reason for Xu's arrest:
“The Online Citizen (TOC) article ‘The take away from Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook post’ made serious allegations that the Government’s highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with. The Police confirm that a report has been lodged against TOC and the author of the article. The Police are investigating this, for the offence of criminal defamation. Electronic equipment such as laptops and handphones were seized in relation to the case."
The article has since been removed from TOC.
What did the article say?
Originally published on Sept. 4, the article written by Willy Sum was in response to the remarks made by MP for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng and Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam, regarding five Singaporeans meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Aug. 30.
In the article, Sum criticised the remarks by Seah and Shanmugam, questioning the cause for concern with the Mahathir meeting.
In one paragraph, Sum claimed the Singapore Constitution had been tampered with and that there was also "corruption at the highest echelons", as well as criticising the current leadership in Singapore.
Sum then concluded the article by lamenting about the day when Singapore might have to return to Malaysia over stagnating development.
As reported by Today, the police report over the article was subsequently lodged by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore.
It was lodged against both Sum, for being the author of the article, and The Online Citizen itself.
What is criminal defamation?
Criminal defamation is different from civil defamation (where person A takes person B to court claiming that B slandered A, even if the defamation wasn’t intended) in that the person who defamed the other person did so with clear and malicious intent.
In Section 499A of the Penal Code:
Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
Anyone found guilty of criminal defamation can be jailed for up to two years, with or without a fine.
As of 9.30pm, it appears that Xu is still with the police and has not responded to requests for comment.
Top image collage from Terry Xu Facebook and The Online Citizen