Singapore—On April 1, Monday, K Shanmugam, the country’s Law and Home Affairs Minister will be making a ministerial statement in Parliament, specifically tackling the restriction on hate speech in order to maintain harmony in a multicultural and multi-religious country such as Singapore.
This is particularly timely, given recent events around the world that reflect antagonism toward various religions.
Hate speech is defined as “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation,” and Mr Shanugam will be talking about how the Government will curb expression that stirs up and spreads tension between races, xenophobia, and other views that show no tolerance for the beliefs and opinions of others.
Also today (April 1), new legislation to manage fake news will be introduced in Parliament, as announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a gala dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Channel News Asia.
The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods proposed the bill, which will give the Government the authority to hold online news outlets and platforms responsible for any deliberate online falsehoods they share.
According to the Prime Minister, “This includes requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter. In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done.”
The whole world was awakened afresh to the problem of Islamophobia just last month, due to a terrorist attack on March 15. A gunman killed 50 people and wounded even more in a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In the wake of the shootings, a neo-Nazi concert was cancelled in Malaysia, Rebellion Fest, a concert featuring right-wing “Malay power” bands that was scheduled to be staged in Ipoh on April 13, was cancelled. Ladyboss Studio, the venue for the concert, cancelled it after coming under pressure from anti-racism protesters.
An activist explained to the owners of the venue the connection between the ideologies of the band lined up to play with the attacks in New Zealand, prompting them to cancel the show.
In Singapore, the Watain concert featuring a Swedish black metal band, was also cancelled at the last minute early in March. The Law and Home Affairs Minister himself cited “security concerns” and that permitting the concert to push through would be against “public order interest and would affect our religious and social harmony”.
Prior to this, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had given permission for the concert to proceed, with Restricted 18 (R18) rating, along with other restrictions.
Mr Shanmugam recently said that the country is unapologetic for its hardline stand concerning hate speech, saying that these expressions should not be allowed to become normalized.
“Many people criticised us in the last 50 years for the way we approach hate speech. We make no apologies for the approach we take and we will continue to take a tough approach.
That is, I think, the only way to make sure everybody can go about their business, do what you want, achieve your full potential, profess whichever faith you want, pray to whichever God you want. That’s your right, we protect that right.”
Speaking at a Religious Rehabilitation Group event on Tuesday, March 25, the Law and Home Affairs Minister gave the example of the remarks of Australian senator Fraser Anning after the mass shooting in the mosques in New Zealand.
The senator had said that the mass shooting was a reflection of “growing fear” due to the immigration of Muslims, and blamed the attack on allowing more Muslims to live in New Zealand.
This, Mr Shanmugam said, was an example of hate speech. “It makes it acceptable that you say this (hate speech). Somebody else criticises it but you continue saying it. Then more people say it, it becomes fair game. Everybody attacks somebody else’s religion.”-TISG
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