Concerns mount amid outrage at rumours

Concerns mount amid outrage at rumours

AS FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew remains critically ill at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Singaporeans have become increasingly anxious for news about his condition.

Yesterday though, there was a strong sense of outrage among many, over the flurry of rumours and hoaxes that flew via smartphones and social media on Wednesday night announcing that he had died.

Some seasoned grassroots leaders were among those taken in by a fake announcement purportedly on the website of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), and some foreign media went ahead and reported the misinformation, only to set it right after the PMO made clear that it was a hoax.

Tanjong Pagar GRC grassroots leader Roy Yeo told The Straits Times: "Some of us got duped seeing the image passed around, trusting that once you see a certain website, it is genuine."

Reader Tan Suan Jin wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page, saying: "It is appalling and in bad taste that as former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's condition deteriorates further, and when the majority of Singaporeans and many around the world are wishing him well, there are those who have the temerity and ingratitude to falsify a death notice."

Reader Patrick Tan Siong Kuan also wrote in, saying he hoped the authorities would find the culprits and take "firm action".

Hoaxes aside, it was plain that concern over Mr Lee's health went up considerably after the PMO revealed on Tuesday that his condition had worsened.

Mr Lee, 91, has been seriously ill in hospital with severe pneumonia since Feb 5 and Singaporeans have been sending him get-well wishes for several weeks. But this week it began to sink in that the end might be near for the nation's key founding father.

Tuesday's PMO statement said his health had taken a turn for the worse because of an infection. More updates have followed since, with no sign that he was improving.

On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong changed the profile picture on his Facebook page, which many read as a hint of the mood among family members and a sign that they were preparing for the worst.

He replaced his cheerful photograph with one of him looking atypically sombre. His wife, Ms Ho Ching, replaced her picture with one of a lotus.

At SGH, a crowd of around 100, including many ordinary people, gathered in the evening. Many wore grim expressions, hoping to be the first to hear fresh news or catch a glimpse of family members visiting. PM Lee visited his father with his wife.

Pictures of the crowd at SGH circulated via smartphones and social media through Wednesday night, as news spread that servicemen in certain units had been told to be on standby.

The SGH crowd dispersed after visiting hours were over at 8.30pm and hospital staff and police told people to go home.

Yesterday, though, there were far fewer people. PM Lee and his wife visited again.

The rumours and hoaxes on Wednesday night began circulating after someone - or some group - doctored a 2010 release from the PMO homepage announcing Mrs Lee Kuan Yew's passing to report falsely that Mr Lee had died.

That image was circulated widely and led to the PMO clarifying that it was not true. The PMO also made a police report.

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