ingaporeans on new media platforms have been all a-twitter (no pun intended) since a number of offensive postings on race and religion surfaced on Facebook.
It all began when a member of YPAP (Young People’s Action Party – the youth wing of the ruling party), Jason Neo, was brought to the attention of the public. Mr Neo had posted a photograph of Muslim children from Huda Kindergarten with the caption: “Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?”
Following the public outcry, the post was removed and Mr Neo’s Facebook account deactivated. He also resigned from the YPAP.
Then it was Christian Eliab Ratnam’s anti-Islam comments that drew criticism from the online community. Mr Ratnam had posted an image with strong anti-Islamic sentiments.
Mr Ratnam has since removed the posting, and wrote an apology that was published on The Online Citizen.
More recently, Donaldson Tan, editor of Singaporean current affairs commentary website New Asia Republic, shared a photograph of a pig superimposed on the Ka’ba, a sacred site to Muslims. He was not the author of the image, and it remains unclear if the author is from Singapore.
Seeing himself as a whistleblower, he added the following caption to his posting: “This is a flame bait. YOU ARE WARNED.” He remains unapologetic about his posting (which has been removed by Facebook), and does not believe that he has contravened any laws.
Police reports have been lodged against Mr Neo, Mr Ratnam and Mr Tan. Under Singapore’s Sedition Act, it is a crime to do anything that has the tendency “to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.”
However, opinions have been divided over the lodging of police reports and use of the Sedition Act against individuals who have posted insensitive and offensive content.
Some Singaporeans feel that it is necessary to preserve peace in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society (which saw race riots in the 1960s).
Others have pointed out that the use of the Sedition Act against the likes of Mr Neo, Mr Ratnam and Mr Tan undermine all calls for free speech in Singapore, and that the focus should be on counselling rather than criminalising. Among those who hold this view is the National Solidarity Party:
If we are to have freedom of expression, it is inevitable that sometimes, deeply offensive things will be said. However, this does not mean that we must look the other way when such statements are made. It is also irrelevant that the remark was made before the individual became a member of the party. It is the responsibility of the party to communicate to its members that such comments are unacceptable. The party should also seek to understand why one of its members harbors such sentiments and find ways to address the underlying cause – perhaps it is simple ignorance.
It is normal for human beings to make mistakes especially when they are young. We should take this as part of their learning journey and seek ways to help them grow and mature.
Finally, the offensive statement in question violated the principle of interracial respect which we hold in common as Singaporeans. As this is a community value, it is the shared responsibility of the community to uphold it by speaking up when it is violated. The correct response therefore is not to censor individuals but to censure them when they speak irresponsibly, for this gives society an opportunity to reaffirm its value system.
What are your thoughts? Should posting racist/offensive things online be a criminal offence?