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Singapore boy gets ‘stern warning’ for Lee death hoax

April 7, 2015

A Singaporean boy behind a hoax that triggered premature reports about the death of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew has been let off with a “stern warning” in lieu of charges, police said Tuesday.

A screenshot of a “statement” that appeared to be from the website of the Prime Minister’s Office announcing Lee’s death was widely circulated via social media and mobile messaging services on March 18, five days before Lee died in hospital after a long illness.

A number of international media organisations issued news alerts based on the fake statement, which they later retracted.

The Singapore Police Force said Tuesday that it had “completed investigations” into the case.

“The culprit is a male Singaporean student below 16 years of age,” it said in a statement.

The boy cannot be named in public due to his age.

“In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), the police have issued him with a stern warning in lieu of prosecution,” the statement added, referring to Singapore’s state prosecution arm.

The AGC, quoted by the Straits Times newspaper’s website, said the boy only shared the fake image with friends to show “how easy it was for a hoax to be perpetuated”, but it was quickly forwarded to other persons.

The bogus reports on Lee’s death forced government-linked media and politicians from the ruling People’s Action Party to take to social media to quash widespread rumours.

Lee, the father of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, died on March 23 after being hospitalised at the Singapore General Hospital for seven weeks due to severe pneumonia.

Lee, praised for turning Singapore into a vibrant global financial hub during his rule as an iron-fisted prime minister from 1959 to 1990, was cremated on March 29 after a week of national mourning and a grand state funeral.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.