Preetipls urges Singaporeans to strive for more accountability on issues of race

In what appears to be the final post influencer Preetipls is making about the recent incident on the ‘distasteful’ ad by E-Pay and the ‘offensive’ rap video that follower, Preeti thanked people who helped her and her brother out in the past few weeks as the drama unfolded.

She said, “Thank you to every one who understood our intentions behind the music video. Thank you to all the friends, clients, fans and everyone who offered any form of help/legal advice/comfort to us in the last 2 weeks. Thank you to everyone who didn’t try to kick us while we were down but instead attempt to understand discrimination and it’s several forms.”

She explained that she understands exactly why people were offended by the music video, “K. Muthusamy” that she made with her rapper brother Subhas Nair, adding that she isn’t here to justify it.

“I am here to say thank you and let’s hope we don’t see anymore painted faces and “offensive rap videos” ever again.

She continued, “It sickens me when corporations get away with major screw ups by doing the literal least – we see this all around the world and I guess this is no longer news to me anymore but we should all strive to be more accountable, both individually and as corporations.”

“If you have body paint out there…pls use it wisely, we don’t need this to ever happen again,” she signed off, as “SG’s TOP Conditional Warning receiver”.

Preeti and Subhas Nair were issued a two-year conditional warning by the Police yesterday (14 August) under Section 298A(a) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224 which covers the offence of wounding racial feelings.

The sibling duo published the video as a response to an advertisement created for e-payment website E-Pay which featured actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races including a Malay woman wearing a headscarf and had his skin artificially darkened to portray an Indian ma. The latter act of artificially darkening skin is referred to as ‘Brownface’.

Hoping to point out the problems with the ad, the sibling came up with a rap video in Preetipls’ signature satirical comedy style, but it was laced with expletives and mocked Chinese Singaporeans directly for exploiting minorities for monetary gain. This rubbed some people the wrong way.

The Police said that an investigation was launched after reports were filed against the video. The authorities noted, “The video was in clear contravention of the Penal Code. If this video were to be allowed, then similar expletive-laden, insulting, offensive videos, targeted at all communities will have to be allowed.”

However, that slippery slope argument faltered when the Police also announced that though the report were made against the E-Pay ad, it would not be taking any action against the company as the Attorney-General’s Chambers had advised that no criminal offence had been committed. The police did conceded that the ad was “distasteful”.

Coming back to Preeti and Subhas Nair, the conditional warning issued by the Police means that the duo are liable to be charged with the offence should they breach the conditions of the warning, according to the statement by the authority. Following the condition period, they will no longer be subject to prosecution for the offence.

Warnings from the police are not legally binding

The thing is, past cases have demonstrated that the warning isn’t a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or fact finding.

Back in 2015, High Court judge Justice Woo Bih Li ruled that warnings issued by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) are mere opinions of the relevant authority.

This judgement was made in the case of activist Jolovan Wham who was seeking to quash a conditional warning issued to him by the Police after Mr Wham had organized a candle-lit vigil in Hong Lim Park last November to show solidarity with the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Hong Kong. The event attracted investigations by the police due to the alleged participation of foreigners and permanent residents.

Justice Woo wrote in his judgement:

However, in my view the warning is still no more than an expression of the opinion of the relevant authority that the recipient has committed an offence. It does not bind the recipient. It does not and cannot amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or finding of fact. Only a court of law has the power to make such a pronouncement or finding and this is not disputed between the parties.

On that judgement, Justice Woo dismissed Mr Wham’s application, noting that the warning held no legal effect on the recipient and was non-binding. The judge also added that the Court is not entitled to treat a warning to a recipient as a prior offence or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing.

So while the police say that Preeti and Subhas Nair are liable to be charged with original offence if they breach the conditions of the warnings, the High Court said it would not take into account the warning in sentencing.

“The Court is not entitled to treat a warning as an antecedent or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a recipient who is subsequently convicted.” – Justice Woo

In the Jolovan Wham case in 205, Justice Woo also flagged the interchangeable use of the terms “Warning” and “Stern Warning” in the document by the police, noting that while the header of the notice read “Notice of Warning”, the content made reference to “stern” warning. The judge said that the terms should not be used interchangeably if there was a difference between them.

In response to the grounds of judgement, a spokesperson from the AGC has said that the AGC and SPF are reviewing the process by which stern warnings are administered and the use of the notice, in the light of the High Court’s comments in the judgment.