Despite some critics’ opinions that Singapore’s stringent laws to curb hate speech would stifle people’s rights and freedom of speech, the Republic will not be backing down on its approach in preventing the normalisation of hateful commentary.

This was part of the 20-minute speech given by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to an audience of religious leaders during the annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG). The voluntary group was formed in 2003 by local Islamic educators to reform radicalised individuals and extremist groups.

Mr Shanmugam also commented on the recent remarks made by Australian senator Fraser Anning as an example of hate speech.

“It makes it acceptable that you say this (hate speech), and somebody else criticise it but you continue saying it. Then more people say it, it becomes fair game. Everybody attacks somebody else’s religion,” Mr Shanmugam expounded.

He also stressed that Singapore’s strict laws on hate speech are necessary in order to “prevent young Muslim men from thinking that going out and killing others is a way to do things”. Laws such as the Sedition Act promptly dole out the punishment to first-time offenders found guilty of instigating ill-will and hostility within the society, a fine of S$5,000 or prison term up to three years, or both.

According to Shanmugam, this “no-nonsense” stance is 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.”

As hate speech and anti-Islam sentiments continue to thrive worldwide, Mr Shanmugam plans to table a parliamentary motion on the issue of race and religious relations in Singapore around early April. He elaborated that although former leaders have attempted to deal with hate speech with various approaches, such positions are “not cast in stone” and “the impact is different depending on the type of hate speech.”

Mr Shanmugam proposed that the current generation is in need of a proper debate so that views can be expressed in a more comprehensive and contextualised position. “Let people understand and that will, I think, allow us as a society to see where the lines ought to be drawn and whether they need to be redrawn”, he added.

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