Editor Terry Xu and The Online Citizen Asia issued new POFMA correction directions

The Online Citizen Asia published recent posts about the May 2021 incident involving an elderly woman and the police in Yishun.

Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen Asia, and his website were issued correction directions on 7 May under Pofma for publishing false allegations against the police related to an incident where an elderly woman was seen without a mask in 2021.
Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen Asia, and his website were issued correction directions on 7 May under Pofma for publishing false allegations against the police related to an incident where an elderly woman was seen without a mask in 2021. (PHOTO: FBScreengrab/SPF)

SINGAPORE — The Online Citizen Asia and its editor Terry Xu were on Sunday (7 May) issued correction directions under Singapore's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) for publishing false allegations against the police.

The false allegations were related to an incident two years ago when an elderly woman was seen not wearing a mask, which was previously published by The Online Citizen (TOC), a now-defunct site that Xu was also the editor of.

TOC was issued a Corrections Direction over their publications on the issue, which it appealed. TOC's appeal was dismissed by the High Court in 2021.

In a statement released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Sunday, the ministry said that despite the government's clarifications and the High Court's "clear findings" on the matter, Xu and The Online Citizen Asia "persisted in making false allegations about the case".

The correction directions were issued for a Facebook post made by Xu on 30 April this year, as well as an article published on The Online Citizen Asia on 2 May.

The ministry also issued a correction direction to The Online Citizen Asia's social media posts on 2 May that referenced the article.

Xu published an opinion piece on 2 May, alleging that the police had distorted facts regarding the incident involving the elderly lady and had withheld crucial evidence. He made similar allegations in a 30 April Facebook post, claiming that the police did not provide any assistance to the elderly lady but approached her because she was not wearing a face mask.

In its statement on Sunday, MHA said, "These allegations are wholly unfounded. They may affect public trust and confidence in the Singapore Police Force."

The ministry strongly condemned Xu's actions, stating, "Xu's attempts to rehash issues already considered by the Court, and exploit a case involving an elderly and vulnerable woman, are contemptible."

MHA also pointed out that the article in question was "one of 60 written by Mr Xu to raise funds to pay for fines imposed upon him by the courts for various offences, including contempt of court and POFMA violations", and emphasised that the government took a serious view of the "deliberate communication of malicious falsehoods".

The Online Citizen Asia and Xu are required to carry a correction notice alongside their publications. A check by Yahoo Southeast Asia on 8 May showed that the site had carried the notice.

Police address the allegations

The police also released a statement on Sunday addressing the allegations made by Xu, stating that they were "wholly unfounded."

According to the police, they received a call from a concerned member of the public about an elderly woman who appeared lost and was not wearing a mask.

When they located the woman, she claimed to know where she lived but could not provide her address. The police say they believed the woman was lost and were there to help her.

They attempted to contact her next-of-kin to escort her home safely and advised her to wear a mask per COVID-19 regulations.

"Her address was only later established with the help of a member of the public, who recognised the elderly woman and recalled that she lived in a nearby block. The High Court has in fact found that the Police officers believed that the elderly woman was lost," the statement added.

Regarding Xu's claims, the police denied that their primary reason for approaching the woman was due to her not wearing a mask and stated that they were solely focused on helping her find her way home.

They also refuted Xu's allegation that they misrepresented and lied to the woman's next of kin, leading to a police report being filed against them.

Instead, the next-of-kin filed a report against TOC for spreading falsehoods and interviewing the woman without the family's permission, said the police.

The police further stated that "police resources are better used to deter and solve crimes, and to assist members of the public, especially vulnerable members like the elderly woman, rather than to address such baseless allegations over and over again."

Details of the 2021 incident

In May 2021, TOC shared an Instagram story from a user claiming that the police had mistreated an elderly woman who was not wearing a face mask. The website republished the post on 18 May 2021, on its social media platforms.

The police issued two clarification statements regarding the incident on 19 May and 25 May 2021 denying the allegations of mistreatment and stating that officers had attended to the woman to help her find her way home, not to reprimand her for not wearing a mask.

The woman, who was 85 years old at that time and believed to have dementia, appeared lost when she was seen without a mask. Officers provided her with food and eventually handed her to her domestic worker.

On 21 May 2021, TOC was issued a correction direction under POFMA for publishing false information. The High Court dismissed The Online Citizen's appeal to set aside the correction direction on 25 July 2022.

The High Court found that TOC had published a false statement as a fact and that the police officer had expressed concern for the elderly lady with the aim of helping her.

The Court also noted that the original publisher could not, in good faith, have concluded that there was reprimanding or taunting by the police.

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