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Hri Kumar’s silence sends wrong message to cyber bullies

By Andrew Loh

hri kumar  condemn

“Singaporeans are best served by politicians who make a stand, not those who sit on fences. Because we all know what happened to Humpty Dumpty.”

Those words were from the Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Hri Kumar. They are from a note on Mr Kumar’s Facebook page, which he wrote and posted on 6 December 2013.

Mr Kumar was taking a swipe at the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) for allegedly not taking firm and clear positions on issues.

hkwpIt was the second time in as many months that Mr Kumar had accused the WP of “refusing to take a stand on contentious issues.”

In an earlier note on 16 November 2013, which also attacked the WP, Mr Kumar quoted one of the founding fathers of the United States thus: "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything."

Mr Kumar, who is a Senior Counsel with legal firm Drew and Napier, is obviously an outspoken individual, and has been in the news for this.

In March last year, his call in Parliament for the government to “act against hateful conduct online” was described and highlighted by the Straits Times as the “Speech of the Day”.

The speech “relates to the need for laws against hate speech and greater privacy laws in Singapore”, he told Parliament.

“While rude expressions per se should not be restricted simply because they are unpleasant, we should be concerned when hate speech and hateful ideas are spread online,” the MP said.

“By vilifying, disparaging, ridiculing, or inciting violence against particular groups of people, hate speech threatens social cohesion and stability,” he added.

Mr Kumar said there may be a need for “a more focused legislation against hate speech and other inappropriate conduct online”, and that there may also be a need for “stronger privacy laws”.

He cited two incidents where the personal particulars of individuals involved in an accident and in “sex corruption cases” were disseminated online.

“There are many instances online where people snap photographs of others in public spaces for the purpose of subjecting them to online ridicule and scorn,” Mr Kumar said.

“The question is whether we as a society find this acceptable, and if not, whether the Government should step in."

No one can really argue with what Mr Kumar said.

Indeed, such odious behaviour as described by Mr Kumar should be condemned unequivocally.

It is thus puzzling why Mr Kumar has kept a total silence – since Saturday - on a recent incident which had followed from the public forum he had conducted in his Thomson ward.

On Saturday, 14 June, the MP held a forum on the hot topic of the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

The event was term “an honest conversation” between the MP and his constituents.

During the dialogue, a 76-year old lady complained about how she was unable to retrieve her CPF monies from the government, and asked if Mr Kumar could help her.

Her plea went viral in cyberspace when a video of her at the forum was posted online.

The MP later told the media that he had spoken to the lady previously and that she was a resident in his constituency. He said that he would see how he could help her with the matter she had raised.

“She's a resident in one of the landed estates in Thomson,” Mr Kumar told the media.

The next day, a PAP support page on Facebook, which is known for its ad hominem attacks on individuals, launched into an attack on the woman, and in the process mocking her.

In what was an apparent case of cyber-bullying, the Facebook page posted:

"Feeling SORRY for her? She stays in a bigger house than you..."

It went on:

“Contrary to how poor she is made out to be by the irresponsible Opposition [sic], this Grandma is richer than most of us.”

It is unclear which “irresponsible opposition” the page was referring to.

It added, in a rather sarcastic and condescending tone:

“Note: auntie chose not to withdraw her CPF at 55; auntie has been receiving monthly payouts; auntie is well to do.”

And if that were not enough to ridicule the lady, the page included a photo of what appears to be the row of houses where she lives.

The Facebook page also included the name of the road at the bottom of the photo.

fap

[We have blanked out the address.]
Jason Chua
Jason Chua

The Facebook page is apparently owned and run by one Jason Chua, who is also believed to be a PAP supporter, if not a member of the party as well.

Questions have been raised about whether such behaviour by the Facebook page amounts to intimidation, and a breach of the lady’s privacy.

Indeed, some have asked how Mr Chua, or the administrators of the Facebook page, came to know of where the lady lived, information which only those who know her would be aware of.

Did the grassroots members of the constituency reveal this to the managers of the Facebook page?

It was reported that some grassroots members who were at the forum showed irritation when the lady was speaking of her plight at the forum.

Why did Mr Kumar find it necessary to even tell the media that the lady lived in a “landed estate”? Wouldn’t that have given those like the Facebook page administrators who attacked her impetus to find out personal details about her?

Why, indeed, has Mr Kumar – who had accused others of not taking a stance on issues – remained silent on this matter since Saturday?

Does he not find it necessary to investigate how the Facebook page came to know of such personal information of his constituent, and to use it to vilify her publicly?

Does he not feel the behaviour of the Facebook page odious and hateful, and that it encourages blatant vigilantism through intimidating behaviour?

Given that Mr Kumar has spoken so eloquently about “hateful conduct online” not too long ago in Parliament, it is indeed very puzzling why he has chosen to keep complete silence when an actual incident of such behaviour occurs which involve a constituent of his who had taken part in his “honest conversation”.

It is also worth noting that the PAP itself and its leaders, who have often and regularly railed against similar conduct online, have apparently chosen to ignore the incident as well.

In April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described those who had harassed the organisers of a Filipino Independence Day celebration event as "a disgrace to Singapore."

But there doesn't seem to be a similarly firm stance against those like Jason Chua who behave in the same fashion.

Mr Kumar’s silence and that of the PAP in fact send a wrong signal to cyber bullies like Jason Chua, who should not be allowed to get away with ridiculing, vilifying and intimidating the elderly, even if it is online.

MPs like Hri Kumar should come out and unequivocally condemn such behaviour - and not hide behind a wall of silence just because those like Jason Chua may be supporters of the PAP.

“Singaporeans are best served by politicians who make a stand, not those who sit on fences. Because we all know what happened to Humpty Dumpty.” - Hri Kumar.

*Note: The Online Citizen (TOC) had earlier sent an email to Mr Kumar to ask for his views on the matter. He has not replied to TOC to date.