The recent saga of couple being investigated by the police for wearing T-shirts with anti-death penalty messages at Yellow Ribbon Prison Run brought the country together to talk about this matter in a non-violent way.
For those who are not aware of this issue, Mohammad Nafiz Kamarudin, founder of non-profit organisation Happy People Helping People Foundation, revealed on Sunday (15 September) that the Yellow Ribbon Project Singapore disallowed him from participating in the run as he appeared at the event wearing an anti-death penalty T-shirt.
The T-shirt had “2nd chances means not killing them” printed on the front, and “#antideathpenalty” printed on the back.
“So they did not allow me to run, despite being clear on their site that runners can use any other tops than their official t-shirt. First they told me I need to change my bib. Now they want to police me on what to wear,” Mr Nafiz wrote in a Facebook post.
As such, he said that he will not participate in the event but will run parallel with other runners.
In an earlier post, Mr Nafiz highlighted that the organiser contacted him last week to request him to change his bib as the message written on it “is not in line with the cause”. At first, the organiser didn’t have any problem when they printed the same anti-death penalty slogan on his bib, instead of his name. However, they later changed their mind and asked him to change his bib with one that bears his name.
Mr Nafiz told TOC that after rejecting the request from different staff from the organisation to change his bib, he finally agreed to do it as he planned to wear a T-shirt with the same message on the day.
After exchanging his bib, a staff even told him that he can appear at the race with any T-shirt of his choice. But, he was still denied the permission to participate in the race.
In fact, a police report was made against him and his wife, who also attended the race adorning the same T-shirt, due to Sunday’s incident.
In a press statement released on Tuesday (17 September), the Singapore Police Force (SPF) did not identify the couple but stated that they are “investigating a 38-year-old Singaporean man and a 30-year-old Singaporean woman for offences under the Public Order Act.”
The statement added, “It is a criminal offence under the Public Order Act to take part in a public assembly or procession without a police permit. Investigations against the duo are ongoing.”
Mr Nafiz went through a two-hour interview at Bedok Police Station Tuesday and his wife attended her interview yesterday.
Public discussing the issue peacefully
Upon reading about this incident, it sparked a non-confrontational debate among the locals as they spoke about the issue on social media.
On Tuesday, local historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin highlighted in a Facebook post that Singapore’s laws are created to be extremely broad in order to “effectively make all public expression of any opinion illegal”, in reference to this saga.
Dr Thum, who is also the managing director of New Naratif, said that this incident is “an example of how systemic oppression works in Singapore.”
“First, self-censorship: you are pressured to voluntarily not express your opinion. Then, marginalisation: if you refuse to self-censor, you are excluded and made invisible. Third, intimidation: if you insist on being visible, Singapore laws are so broad as to effectively make all public expression of any opinion illegal,” he wrote.
Although Dr Thum opines that Mr Nafiz will most likely no face prosecution as it “would cross a line and make the authoritarianism too clear-cut”, but he feels that the bigger problem here is the fear and intimidation that is being disseminated to the wider population so that they don’t utter an opinion that is different from the government officials.
“And the crucial aspect – the real tragedy – is that all this happens not because of a directive from those in power, but merely out of fear and caution by those in middle management,” he said.
He continued, “Authoritarianism today is far more sophisticated than jack-booted thugs. It’s boring, bureaucratic, and administrative.”
Lynn Lee’s take on the issue
Besides him, film producer Lynn Lee also took to her Facebook page recently to point out that the act of “wearing a t-shirt with the wrong message is considered a step too far” in Singapore.
She said that Singaporeans are too “busy analysing and critiquing other people’s behaviour” without doing anything much about the issues that have been happening in their own country.
Referring to the protests in Hong Kong, Ms Lee said a large number of people in Singapore have made the events in Hong Kong as a “spectator sport” due to their comments about it.
“The loudest, shrillest people have not been anywhere near a protest, but they seem to know exactly what’s going on and can even offer up all sorts of clever theories and suggestions on how best to end the crisis. Perhaps these same people should focus on what’s happening at home instead,” she wrote.
Although Ms Lee agrees that the large-scale protests in Hong Kong might not be the best way to bring about change, but she said that it’s important to note that a simple act of wearing a t-shirt with anti-death penalty slogan is considered too much for Singapore.
She went on to quote several controversies that happened in the country in recent times:
One person can constitute an illegal assembly. A Skype call can be an illegal assembly. Hitting the share button on Facebook can invite a defamation suit. A course on dissent and resistance is seen as an attempt to advance “partisan political interests”. Meanwhile, pro-government trolls get to say whatever shit they want online, the Media Literacy Council needs media literacy training, the wife of our Prime Minister says he’s not overpaid. Oh, and Ministers are arbiters of truth – a new law gave them that privilege.
Ms Lee also noted that the method that Hong Kongers took in attempt to “wrest control of their own future” is their own choice and is none of Singaporeans’ business.
As such, she said that the locals are too busy being nosey about problems happening in other countries without knowing what to do about the issues happening in homeland.
“We’re the frog in the fable – so busy analysing and critiquing other people’s behaviour, we don’t realise temperatures in our own little pond are rising. When the water finally boils, we won’t have a clue what to do,” she explained.
Bertha Henson questions the Public Order offence in the act
On the other hand, veteran journalist Bertha Henson questioned the Public Order offence committed by Mr Nafiz and his wife in the Sunday’s run.
“So what is the Public Order offence here? He took part in a run that was properly organised I am sure. So his Public Order offence is wearing a different bib?” she asked in a Facebook post.
She continued, “I can understand if the bib is about kangaroos and courts…but this is simply making a statement. So could he have used the bib at other runs not organised by the authorities?”
The husband-and-wife duo are being investigated by the police for offences under the Public Order Act, which carries a maximum fine of S$3,000, with repeat offenders liable to be fined up to S$5,000.
In a separate post, the journalist also listed down a compilation of recent happenings in the country, which includes Mr Nafiz’s incident.
What a crazy country we live in….a place where a toddler’s death surfaces only after five years, where the PM sues others for talking about what his siblings said but not his siblings, where the Media Literacy Council isn’t literate enough to define fake news properly, where you can be accused under the Public Order offence for wearing the wrong bib, where most workers believe that they are getting bullied, where subsidies get eaten up by fee increases, where students need to have a workshop on how to make posters….while we’re being enveloped by the haze.
Her post also garnered a lot of attention from netizens, as it received more than 200 comments and over 600 shares.