A 20-year-old full-time national serviceman by the name of Edmund Zhong got into trouble with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) over a “harmless” comment on Facebook about throwing an egg at Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Zhong told The Straits Times (ST) that he posted the comment as a joke, “based on the news on the Australian senator”, whose Islamophobic remarks had been criticized by Mr Shanmugam as well. Unlike the case of 17-year-old Will Connolly who was unapologetic of egging Anning, Zhong claimed he didn’t have any ill intentions whatsoever to commit the act.
When the Australian ‘Egg Boy’ news was posted on Channel NewsAsia’s Facebook page, Zhong commented by saying, “I wanna do that to K Shanmugam. I swear.” while being egged on by two other Facebook users, Jack Ng and Louis Ng.
Not long after that, police allegedly visited Zhong’s home and left him a notice in which he shared the picture of in a Facebook group called “Complaint Singapore”. He took it down later on.
SPF told ST in a statement that they “take such threats seriously, and will carry out investigations accordingly.”
Police also said that an anonymous police report has been filed for the comment on March 19, reminding us of a similar case in 2015 with blogger Amos Yee.
Yee was initially investigated under the Protection against Harassment Act for various offences after more than 20 police reports were made against his video of the late Lee Kuan Yew, but the charges were eventually dropped. It was revealed later on through the hearing that only 3 of the police reports were related to the sedition charges filed against him.
Zhong and another commenter, a 47-year-old stranger who allegedly encouraged Zhong by providing details of Shanmugam’s meet-the-people session, are being investigated for the offence of “communicating an electronic record to incite violence” under Section 267C of the Penal Code.
Those found guilty under committing the offence may face up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.
According to ST, Zhong acknowledged the police’s job to investigate the matter “even if they think it’s a waste of time.” He also reasoned that his comment was made for “entertainment” in a “local context” and that there are other bigger issues at stake.
“To be honest I don’t feel much regret. I feel it’s a matter of freedom of speech, and that we have a right to voice such opinions,” Zhong said.
The incident has raised questions about what constitutes inciting violence, which was discussed at length by Mr Ashwin Ganapathy, a lawyer at IRB Law and Mr Rajan Supramaniam, a criminal lawyer and managing director of Hilborne Law.
Mr Ashwin defended Zhong’s case by stating that “persuading or suggesting” violence without any action taken is not sufficient proof to be categorized as intention. On the other hand, Mr Rajan commended the police’s action on regulating and deterring “irresponsible and extreme” social media postings with strict consequences as “a deterrent got like-minded people”.
Meanwhile, Mr Shanmugam laughed off Zhong’s comments earlier this morning, quoting them as “the somewhat exaggerated words of a young man” in a post on his official Facebook page. He also added that he was “much more concerned” about Mr Zhong’s public posts on supporting the use of cannabis in Singapore.
In light of this recent incident, Singaporeans may have cause to wonder if similar comments towards other public figures in the future would justify the course of action by the SPF as well as the heavy offences charged.
Do trivial matters such as “innocent” comments made on social media need to be exposed through public investigations by using the SPF as a form of personal security or bodyguards in order to intimidate others from doing the same?