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Director of TOC documentary fined S$6,500 for working in Singapore without valid work pass

SINGAPORE — A British man who directed a documentary about the now-defunct The Online Citizen website was fined S$6,500 on Tuesday (May 17) for doing freelance news production work in Singapore without a valid work pass. 

Stuart Calum Arthur Alistair (pictured) pleaded guilty to one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Stuart Calum Arthur Alistair (pictured) pleaded guilty to one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

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  • Stuart Calum Arthur Alistair was fined S$6,500 for doing freelance news production work in Singapore without a valid work pass
  • The 36-year-old Englishman also worked with a media professional to have his articles published on Yahoo News Singapore for a fee
  • Thomson Reuters Asia, now known as Refinitiv Asia, was fined S$5,500
  • Muhammad Firdianshah Salimat, a former founding partner of online publishing firm Popspoken, was fined S$4,000

SINGAPORE — A British man who directed a documentary about the now-defunct The Online Citizen website was fined S$6,500 on Tuesday (May 17) for doing freelance news production work in Singapore without a valid work pass. 

Calum Arthur Alistair Stuart, 36, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. In 2016, he was working for news agency Thomson Reuters Asia, now known as Refinitiv Asia, while on a long-term social visit pass.

Another count under the Act was taken into consideration for sentencing. This relates to him working with a media professional to have his articles posted on Yahoo News Singapore for a fee.

For engaging Stuart’s services, Refinitiv Asia, a financial markets data provider, was fined S$5,500 on Tuesday.

Muhammad Firdianshah Salimat, 30, who was the founding partner of online publishing firm Popspoken, was fined S$4,000.

Stuart is the husband of activist and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

WORK WITH YAHOO 

The court heard that on May 26 in 2015, Firdianshah signed an agreement with Yahoo Asia Pacific to provide three to five original pieces of writing every weekday relating to general news, current events or trends, or other topics.

Principal Prosecuting Officer Houston Johannus from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that these articles would then be published on Yahoo News Singapore and Firdianshah would be paid S$150 for every published article.

At the time, Firdianshah was already not a registered partner of Popspoken but was helping the firm handle editorial works, business development opportunities and other operations.

The prosecutor said that after Popspoken was struck off from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority on Jan 20 in 2015, Firdianshah continued to be involved in liaising with freelance writers for online publications.

Muhammad Firdianshah Salimat (pictured), who was the founding partner of online publishing firm Popspoken, was fined S$4,000.

Around the same time Firdianshah signed the agreement with Yahoo Asia Pacific, he got to know Stuart through Ms Han, whom Stuart reportedly met while she was studying for a postgraduate degree in the United Kingdom.

Needing a writer to fulfil the agreement with Yahoo, Firdianshah offered Stuart a job as a freelance writer.

During the negotiation process, Stuart highlighted the matter of needing approval from the Government before starting work but Firdianshah chose to engage Stuart even though he did not have a valid work pass, Mr Johannus said.

On June 27 that year, Firdianshah signed an agreement with Stuart to provide him with three to five original pieces of writing every weekday, which he would then submit to Yahoo for consideration.

For every published article, he would pay Stuart S$100 and take a cut of S$50. Firdianshah would be the person in charge of vetting every article submitted by Stuart.

Between June and August 2015, Stuart wrote seven news articles that were published by Yahoo, most of which were centred around Singapore’s current affairs.

Stuart was paid S$700 in total and Firdianshah received S$350. 

WORK WITH THOMSON REUTERS

Sometime in August 2015, Thomson Reuters Asia offered Stuart a position as an assistant producer where he would be paid S$4,500 a month for video production services.

Stuart took up the offer but did not sign the employment contract prepared by Thomson Reuters Asia, Mr Johannus said.

The news agency later applied for an employment pass on behalf of Stuart but the application was rejected.

It then applied for a letter of consent, which would allow long-term visit pass holders who are spouses of a Singaporean or permanent resident to work here. This was later rejected. 

On Nov 25 in 2015, while waiting for the letter of consent to be approved, Thomson Reuters Asia offered Stuart some freelance television and video production work where he would be paid the same sum of S$4,500 a month.

Mr Johannus said: “(Stuart) agreed to the subsequent freelance offer, despite knowing that he was then on a long-term social visit pass, which prohibited him from engaging in any trade, vocation or profession without a valid work pass.”

Thomson Reuters Asia, likewise, was aware that Stuart did not have a valid work pass, he added.

Stuart worked for Thomson Reuters Asia without a valid work pass from Nov 25, 2015 to July 8, 2016, during which he earned a total of S$30,375.

Mr Johannus said that investigations began after MOM received information about the violation on Sept 30, 2019. 

Stuart held a long-term social visit pass from Nov 19, 2015 to March 18, 2019. He is now on a short-term social visit pass.

In 2019, he directed An Online Citizen, a 25-minute documentary on The Online Citizen, a socio-political website. It premiered at the Freedom Film Fest 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

For being a self-employed foreigner without a valid work pass, Stuart could have been fined up to S$20,000 or jailed up to two years, or both.

Related topics

court crime work pass MOM Thomson Reuters Asia Refinitiv Asia job TOC

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