Netizens raise concern about freedom of speech while police investigating two women for contempt of court over comments on Orchard Towers murder case

The Singapore Police Force is acting on two authorisation orders from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to initiate investigations against two women, aged 28 and 36 for contempt of court after they made comments about judgement of Orchard Towers murder case.

The police said in a statement to Channels News Asia that these two women have “made social media posts that alleged preferential treatment based on race of accused persons” involved in an incident at Orchard Towers which happened on 2 July last year.

It added that the investigations are ongoing.

Earlier on 15 October, CNA reported that the AGC denied the allegations that the accused persons involved in the Orchard Towers murder case have received preferential treatment in sentencing because of their race.

“Any allegation that the Court imposes sentences on offenders on account of their race, and imposes harsher sentences if they are a member of a minority race, is categorically false and baseless,” the AGC said.

Describing the allegations of preferential treatment for different races as “baseless”, the AGC asserted that such allegations “have the potential to disrupt racial harmony in Singapore, causing irreversible divisions in our communities”.

As such, the AGC said it has directed the police to investigate the social media posts, adding that it will not hesitate to take action against “those who fall foul of the law”.

Background of the Orchard Towers murder case

On 2 July 2019, a group scuffle broke out in Orchard Towers have resulted in the death of 31-year-old Satheesh Noel s/o Gobidass.

Six men and a woman have been charged with common intention to murder Mr Satheesh, but six of them have faced downgraded charges after a thorough investigation by AGC which said that they were “found not to be involved in causing the death of the deceased”.

On 4 March 2020, Joel Tan Yun Sheng was sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment for voluntarily causing hurt to the victim with common intention while Ang Da Yuan was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment and six strokes of the cane for voluntarily causing hurt to the victim by kicking and punching him.

The only woman involved in the case, Natalie Siow Yu Zhen on 9 October has received a five-month jail sentence as she pleaded guilty to one charge each of voluntarily causing hurt with common intention and of consorting with a person possessing an offensive weapon.

Meanwhile a conditional warning has been issued to Chan Jia Xing on 15 October for a reduced charge of consorting with a person possessing an offensive weapon.

The other two, Tan Hong Sheng and Loo Boon Chong have also had their murder charges dropped or reduced to consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon.

Tan Sen Yang is the only one of the seven people to still face a murder charge in this case. He was accused of having a foldable karambit knife – a small curved knife resembling a claw – on the day of the incident.

Explaining about the sentence given to the accused people, the AGC said that the sentences of Joel Tan, Natalie Siow and Ang Da Yuan were given “in line with sentencing guidelines for their charges”, as reported by CNA.

As for Chan Jia Xing who has received a conditional warning, the AGC reasoned that it was because he “tried to stop the attack on the deceased and has cooperated with police investigations”.

However, they added that Mr Chan may still face his consorting charge if he commits a crime during his 12-month warning period.

“At no point did the Police and AGC take the race of the deceased and the seven individuals into consideration in its decision,” the AGC noted, responding to the allegations.

Mixed reaction from netizens

Following the news of two women being investigated over their remark on social media, the netizens were quick to pen their thoughts on the Facebook page of CNA and The Straits Times, with some people questioning that whether the “freedom of speech” is exist in this democratic society as people have to accept silently without allowing to give comment and feedback. Some also opined that there is “freedom of speech but no freedom after speech”.

Seeing the consequences, some netizens cautioned that people have to learn the lessons through this news and be responsible of what they said on social media because “irresponsible speech” is like “verbal abuse” that can kill a person too.

A few netizens also pointed out that before thinking about freedom of speech, the commenters need to be alert of the Singapore’s multiracial culture where “every race or religion comment need to be sensitive”.

“This is not western country where they think about freedom of speech.”

Not only this, other netizens also discussed that whether the sentence for contempt of court will be heavier than those who involved in the Orchard Towers murder case. Some of them even jokingly said that the pen could be “mightier than the kerambit”.

While AGC claimed that it will take action against those making false allegations, a couple of netizens however concerned that why there was no further action taken against Parti Liyani’s former employer who had made “false police report”.

 

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