13.10.19

Singapore wonders: can you dissent, and discuss dissent, while still loving your nation?

As with my post on the (all-too-recent!) brownface saga, this is a summary of links on the Singapore government- and establishment-led inaccurate characterising of dissent as traitorous behaviour, and thus of activists, artists and independent journalists and scholars who express dissent as traitors to Singapore.

If I've missed anything meaty, please let me know. The information here was last updated on 14 October 2019.

This series of events began when news broke that a Yale-NUS enrichment programme, "Dissent And Resistance In Singapore", to be taught by playwright Alfian Sa'at, had been cancelled two weeks before it was scheduled to begin (Seow Bei Yi, "Yale-NUS cancels programme to introduce students to 'modes of dissent and resistance in Singapore'", The Straits Times, 14 September 2019).

Initial statements on the cancellation of the course:
As online discussion intensified over the next week:
On 25 September 2019, the minister for home affairs K. Shanmugam described independent Singapore news websites The Online Citizen and New Naratif as being used "to advance foreign interests" (Kenneth Cheng, "Shanmugam questions funding sources behind TOC, reiterates need for laws to curb foreign interference", TODAY, 25 September 2019). Shanmugam's speech included inaccurate descriptions of New Naratif co-founder Kirsten Han's political positions (see her refutations below).
On 29 September 2019, Yale University released a statement and its fact-finding report, contending that "the decision to cancel the module was made internally and without government interference in the academic independence of the College." Its fact-finding report by Prof Pericles Lewis additionally asserted that Yale-NUS had been concerned with "legal risk" and with the "inadequacy of the materials" submitted by Alfian Sa'at.
On 7 October 2019, minister for education Ong Ye Kung stated in Parliament that the cancellation of Alfian Sa'at's proposed programme was because "MOE's stand is we cannot have such activity in our schools or institutes of higher learning. Political conscientisation is not the taxpayer's idea of what education means". Ong also read a few lines of Alfian's poem "Singapore You Are Not My Country" to throw doubt on his loyalty to Singapore (see also Rei Kurohi, "Yale-NUS saga: Academic freedom can't be carte blanche for misusing academic institutions for political advocacy, says Ong Ye Kung", The Straits Times).
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