Which “Dissent and Resistance” speakers were going to teach Yale-NUS students how to protest?

By September 14, 2019Current, Featured

TL;DR – Is it Ping Tjin Thum, Kirsten Han and Jolovan Wham?

I had thought it was going to be a laze-and-chill kind of Saturday. Hong Kongers are still protesting and Singaporeans are still shopping and travelling (not to Hong Kong though), and I was going to read a book or two. Until a text message from our editor came an hour ago.

It’s about the Dissent and Resistance in Singapore programme that has just been cancelled by Yale-NUS College.

In its letter to students to explain the sudden cancellation, Yale-NUS had said the project did not “critically engage with the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the political, social and ethical issues that surround dissent”.

Yale-NUS added that the proposed activities and some of the speakers selected for it could “infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus”.

Our team discussed quickly over chat how to split the work. While one teammate was writing about why the cancellation, I offered to check out the list of speakers.

So, who are on the list of speakers?

The project was led by CIPE’s Programme Manager Tan Yock Theng and Alfian Bin Sa’at.

The now-deleted itinerary included screening of some films, panel discussions and dialogues with “visual artists, documentary film-makers, theatre-makers and journalists”.

Partner Organisations:

  • ArtsEngage
  • AWARE
  • Coda Culture
  • Community Action Network
  • Drama Box
  • New Narratif
  • Pinkdot Singapore
  • W!ld Rice

I saw quite some familiar names, and of particular interest to me are historian Thum Ping Tjin (PJ Thum), freelance journalist Kirsten Han and Jolovan Wham, someone the South China Morning Post had once labeled as “the new Chee Soon Juan”.

I wonder if these are the “some of the speakers” that Yale-NUS was referring to when talking about how they could “infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus”.

Kirsten Han, Ping Tjin Thum and Jolovan Wham (via)

It also occurred to me that perhaps those on the list with the biggest reactions to the cancellation might also be one way to suss out who might be the “some of the speakers”.

The “usual suspects”!

It’s hardly surprising that a topic on “dissent and resistance in Singapore” would have these names behind it. After all, these are the people who seem to thrive on dissent, what with their strong views that are always on the opposite end from the establishment.

Also, relative to the rest of the speakers on the list, these three names are also more often “in the news”. Quite possibly, they are amongst the most vocal critics of the Singapore government.

Thum Ping Tjin (PJ Thum) vs Shanmugam

I had a quick look, but no public reactions or response online from PJ Thum so far. Let’s take a look at his more recent claims to fame.

  • Thum lied about his academic credentials
  • Thum accused LKY as the biggest creator of fake news
  • Thum said Operation Coldstore was based on falsehoods

Most people would remember PJ Thum best from his six-hour “sparring” with Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam last March. Actually, it’s more like Shanmugam “grilled” Thum for six hours over Thum’s submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

Thum had accused the PAP politicians as a source of fake news in relation to their accounts of Operation Coldstore, and of course, Shanmugam would not let that go lightly.

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In case you’re interested, here’s Part 1 of the marathon session and links to Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

 

It also didn’t help that Thum was not able to answer some of Shanmugam’s questions. At one point, Shanmugram asked Thum why he had left out evidence by prominent communist leaders about overthrowing the Government.

Thum’s reply was he “can’t possibly account for every single source that ever existed anywhere”.

‘Nuff said.

Yes, many of us were curious why Shanmugam would spend so much time asking Thum questions. He knew we were curious too, and he took to sharing the reason on his Facebook page last September.

He’d said, “These are serious allegations made in Parliament about our founding PM. Either they have to be accepted, or shown to be untrue. Keeping quiet about them was not an option.”

So who “won”?

The Select Committee released its report in September last year, and in their report, they’d said that Thum had “clearly lied” about his academic credentials.

Based on his conduct in relation to the committee, they did not find Thum to be a credible representor, so yeps, they had given no weight to Thum’s views.

Ouch…

PJ Thum, Kirsten Han and George Soros

While there has been no public online reaction from Thum yet, Han has been fast and furious with her tweets.

Other than expressing her outrage and all, the freelance journalist has also tagged the college and called them out for not respecting civil liberties when it’s a liberal arts college. And of course, she has referred to Singapore as an authoritative country.

So now, let’s have a look at one of the more recent issues that have put both Thum and Han in the spotlight.

  • Thum and Han readily accepted foreign funding to help run their political site
  • Thum and Han wanted to run democracy classes in Singapore with the foreign funding
  • Thum and Han did not think twice about using foreign funds to run a political website that often critiques politics and politicians in this region

PJ Thum and Kirsten Han tried to register a company OSEA Pte Ltd that accepted Open Society Foundations (OSF) funds (US$75,000).

So who or what is OSF? Well, it’s an organisation that backs pro-democracy initiatives around the world, and OSF is funded by the US billionaire financier George Soros.

Thankfully, their application to register OSEA Pte Ltd was rejected by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) in April last year.

Why? Because what they were doing would be “contrary to Singapore’s national interests”.

Once OSEA is set up in Singapore, Thum and Kirsten Han was planning to organise activities like “democracy classroom” sessions and also to support their online media platform – New Naratif.

“Singapore’s politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine. We should not allow foreigners to interfere in how we should govern our country. Nor should we allow any group of Singaporeans to lend themselves to being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore,” Acra said.

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So no no no, please, no foreign funding!

Remember this, George Soros’s foundation – Open Society Foundations (OSF) – was “expressly established to pursue a political agenda the world over, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries.”

PJ Thum, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Dr Mahathir

  • Thum and friends invited foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics
  • Was Thum saying that Singapore’s rightful place is in Malaya??

This part is really bizarre. I had thought of them as over-zealous activists, but never really thought they were not in support of Singapore’s sovereignty or that they would be this unpatriotic.

But PJ Thum and friends (including Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Sonny Liew) went to meet Dr Mathathir to invite Dr M to bring democracy and freedom to Singapore.

Thum even went so far as to suggest that Singapore is part of Malaya.

Yes, you can see from Thum’s own Facebook post that he had urged Dr M to take leadership in SE Asia for democracy and other issues.

WHAT?? A Singaporean appealing to a Malaysian PM (one who hates us too) to lead and bring democracy to us??

That’s not all.

Thum had also, for a few years, wished Singaporeans a happy unofficial independence day on 31st August. Come on, our national day is 9th August, and 31st August is Malaysia’s special day, not ours. His choice of word is also curious. He’d used Malaya instead of Malaysia.

See this too. “… return to our rightful place alongside our brothers and sisters in Malaya.”

Is he trying to hint at something? That Singapore should not be independent and should “return” to Malaya?

And of course, Shanmugam had something to say when he learnt that Thum and company had gone to meet Dr M.

“We can have political differences within Singapore … but I think we should never go out and invite someone foreign or a foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics.” 

 

Even the Malaysian online media picked up the news.

I hope these incidents are enough to show you why we should all be very suspicious of what Thum and his friends are up to.

These are not things that a patriotic Singaporean would do, whatever one’s political inclination and preference. One does not take foreign funding (and probably run their agenda and take their orders too) to meddle in domestic politics and affairs.

One does not go to a foreign PM to come lead our own country. Especially one who often threatens to cut off our water supply and one who has threatened war on us.

(L-R) Ping Tjin Thum, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Joshua Wong (Hong Kong)

Jolovan Wham and Joshua Wong

This social worker who is an advocate in the areas of human rights and civil liberties has been tweeting since the cancellation notice went out. Here’s one.

 

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One of the more memorable recent news about Jolovan Wham, other than his trip up north to meet Dr M, would have to be when he was charged for organising a public assembly without a permit, and also for refusing to sign a statement that he gave to police. That public assembly refers to an event he had organised and he had invited Joshua Wong to be on the panel of speakers over Skype.

Jolovan Wham probably feels some kind of connection to foreign-funded political activist Joshua Wong, since he had invited his Hong Kong counterpart to be part of the panel for an event he organised, Civil Disobedience and Social Movements. It involved a panel of activists critical of the Singapore government, and Jolovan Wham had asked pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong to join the panel from Hong Kong, all via Skype.

Yes, Joshua Wong, the pro-democracy poster child/boy from Hong Kong.

The same Joshua Wong who had recently said Hong Kong is the new Cold War’s Berlin. And yes, the same Joshua Wong who was a key figure in the Umbrella Movement back in 2014, and yes, he was part of the group who had stormed the Government headquarters.

And don’t forget the foreign influence.

Joshua Wong,, taken during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, 2014 (via)

It looks to me that these two people have quite a few things in common. They have the same JW initials, and they’re both activists.

And yes, both seem to like protests.

One was a key figurehead in the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and is still very vocal during this round of escalating protests. The other one has so much dogged grit that he would go for even a one-man protest. Maybe he got a little lonely, and wanted to “jio” some young university students through the Yale-NUS programme to join him in more protests.

My money’s on these names

The Straits Times article mentioned one of Alfian Sa’at’s old Facebook post where he had shared about designing a programme called “Dissent and Resistance”. He’d talk about how the programme would include the various modes  of dissent and resistance, ranging from citizen journalism to artistic works, and from “accommodationist” tactics such as pragmatic resistance to “radical” strategies of civil disobedience.

It’s hardly surprising that the authorities would be at least slightly alarmed that the Yale-NUS students would be taught these tactics and strategies to “negotiate with power in Singapore’.

I suppose the authorities, just like the rest of us, do not want to see our little red dot going the way of a burning and broken-spirited one like Hong Kong right now. And possibly fuelled by foreign interference too.

Protesters stand near burning items during a protest in Mong Kok district (via)

 

A fire set by protesters burns at an entrance to the Central MTR subway station in Hong Kong (via)

 

A tourist gives her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate during another demonstration by protesters at Hong Kong’s International Airport on Aug. 13, 2019 (via)

 

And no, taxpayers’ money should not be used to teach students things like how to negotiate with power with the different modes from “accommodationist” tactics such as pragmatic resistance to “radical” strategies of civil disobedience, and how to design protest signs. 

What do you think?

Do you agree with my speculation that these three names are probably the “some of the speakers” that Yale-NUS was referring to?

 

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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots. And I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published.

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