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Photo of the now-closed Mobile Air retail shop (Terry Xu)

Possible legal action against those who harassed Mobile Air owner

Mobile Air Pte Ltd
Mobile Air Pte Ltd in Sim Lim Square. (Image – Terry Xu TOC)

Online users who participated in harassing Mobile Air owner Jover Chew could face legal action, although there might be problems identifying them to be able to take effective action against potential perpetrators.

Mr Chew, who shot to infamy after a video of a tourist customer begging on his knees for the return of his money, went viral and motivated online users to crowd-source for funds to pay back the customer.

However, another form of online activism also drew attention. Mr Chew's personal details, such as his NRIC number and home address was dug up by online vigilantes. Some even took it upon themselves to have pizza delivered to his home, presumably in retaliation to the incident.

Media also reported that someone has left a t-shirt with vulgarities written on it at his shop front.

Mr Chew's wife is believed to have filed a police report regarding the perceived harassment, although it might not lead to much unless the perpetrators can be identified through their online identities.

The Protection From Harassment Act, passed earlier this year in March, is the framework for those harassed to seek legal redress.

Section 4 of the Act indicates:

Harassment, alarm or distress
(1)  No person shall by any means —

(a) use any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or
(b) make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication,
which is heard, seen or otherwise perceived by any person (referred to for the purposes of this section as the victim) likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

In addition, the Act also provides for instances where those who intentionally support or encourage acts of vigilantism might also be held liable.

Fear or provocation of violence
(1) No person shall by any means use towards another person (referred to for the purposes of this section as the victim) any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication to another person (referred to also for the purposes of this section as the victim), either —
(a) with the intent —
(i) to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used by any person against the victim or any other person; or
(ii) to provoke the use of unlawful violence by the victim or another person against any other person; or
(b) whereby —
(i) the victim is likely to believe that such violence referred to in paragraph (a)(i) will be used; or
(ii) it is likely that such violence referred to in paragraph (a)(ii) will be provoked.

As such, it is entirely possible that those who share information leading to the harassment, such as personal details and home addresses, might not be any less culpable than those who participate actively in the actual acts of harassment.

However, the success of a case lodged depends on whether the prosecution feels that a case can be made for the aggrieved person, and whether the people behind the harassment can be found.

This might include obtaining their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from the telcos, but there are ways for online users to deliberately avoid detection.