The Singapore government is launching a police investigation of a death hoax about former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is currently hospitalized. A doctored statement claiming that the 91-year-old Lee died circulated on social media and the mobile messaging service WhatsApp Wednesday, and at least three major international news organizations picked up and circulated the falsehood.
"There is an image of a doctored statement supposedly from the prime minister's office. It is fake," a government representative told Agence France-Presse. He added that the police report will trigger an investigation into the person responsible for the fake statement.
CNN and Beijing-based CCTV News were among the news organizations that broke the story on Twitter, according to Channel News Asia. CCTV reportedly also broadcast the news on air. Hong Kong news site ifeng.com also published a report based on the doctored statement. All three news outlets have retracted their original posts, and ifeng.com said it was "deeply sorry" and would be taking stern action against people involved, according to Channel News Asia.
Lee was admitted into intensive care at Singapore General Hospital Feb. 5 for severe pneumonia and has been on “mechanical ventilation,” a form of life support, the government said, according to AFP. His condition deteriorated further Wednesday, and Lee remained “critically ill,” according to a press release from the prime minister’s office. Lee has indicated in an advance directive that he does not want any life-sustaining treatment to keep him alive if he cannot be resuscitated, according to AFP.
Lee was Singapore’s first prime minister and is credited with the country’s economic success, despite criticism for repression and stifling media freedom. He was in power from 1959 to 1990, and is the father of the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee remained influential in the country’s politics even after stepping down, when he was given the titles of senior minister and minister mentor.