Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hate Speech Legislation in Singapore

Hate Speech Targets Muslim Ethnic Group in Singapore

A photograph with a controversial caption has been circulating on Facebook since yesterday, attracting the ire of many Singaporeans of all races. The photograph (see on the left) shows a school bus with young children inside. The bus services students from the Huda Kindergarten in Woodlands, Singapore. One can see clearly the attire worn by the little boys - a white shirt and a songkok (Muslim hat). These little children are clearly Muslims. And for those who are not aware, Huda is a Muslim-run kindergarten. The caption below the photograph (part of it has been blurred in this version of the photograph) states "Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?". This caption has been attributed to a Jason Neo, a member of the Youth People's Action Party (YPAP).

Clearly, the caption to the photograph is hate speech targeted at Muslims in Singapore.

Singaporeans and the ISA Refrain Each Time Racial Agitators Strike

Many Singaporeans on Facebook have been quick (to their credit) to denounce the inflammatory caption. Several have also called for the Singapore Internal Security Department (ISD) to investigate the matter; in what I can only call a knee-jerk reaction. Each time, a racial incident rears its ugly head in Singapore, invariably the ISD is foremost in the minds of people.

More so today, as the ISD and the Internal Security Act (ISA) have been debated in the Singapore only a month ago.

The ruling party, PAP, had defended the relevance of the ISA in Singapore and has stated that it has been used against racial agitation:

"The ISA has been used, for instance, against foreign subversion and espionage as well as racial agitation. Between 1991 and 2010, there were a total of seven cases of detentions for espionage. One case was subsequently charged under the Official Secrets Act. Wherever possible we have prosecuted espionage cases in court, but this is not always practicable when the danger from compromising confidentiality of the intelligence involved outweighs any advantage from open prosecution and conviction".

Source: DPM Teo Chee Hean

ISA Unnecessary as Means to Prevent Racial Agitation

Hate speech (the general definition of hate speech is: any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic) is regulated by various legislation in Singapore, other than the ISA.

Legislation that addresses hate speech in Singapore, other than the ISA:
Sedition Act
Penal Code, section 298A
Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

The ISA, as a means, to deal with racial agitators in Singapore is unnecessary. Singaporeans need to avoid this knee-jerk reaction to invoke the ISD/ISA, given the host of available legislation to deal with hate speech.

Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

In 2010, a Christian pastor was called up by the ISD for posting Youtube videos deriding the Buddhist and Taoist faiths. He subsequently apologized and was let off with a reprimand from the ISD. But in that particular case, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act could have been a route that police could have used.

Section 8(1) of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act permits the Minister for Home Affairs to make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution where the Minister is satisfied that the person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:[8]

(a) causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;
(b) carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief;
(c) carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or
(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.

Sedition Act

In 2005, animal shelter worker Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, was jailed for one month while Nicholas Lim Yew, an unemployed 25-year-old, was sentenced to a nominal prison term of one day and fined the maximum $S5000 ($A3924) for racist comments against the Malay community. Both were convicted under the Sedition Act.

3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;
(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;
(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

It remains to be seen how and under which legislation Jason Neo will be investigated for his hate speech.


DarKScoRpioN said...

Jason Neo being a YP member should have known better than to spout nonsense online. He should be subjected to the full force of the law. Read more about it here.

anthonydavis said...

The ISA, as a means, to deal with racial agitators in Singapore is unnecessary.

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