Nearly two months since police reports were made against Facebook page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh over its now-deleted Facebook post published on 21 May, the authorities have decided to close the case.
In the offending post that became the subject of the police reports, the page expressed support for the late Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew’s views on being wary of placing Malay-Muslim Singaporeans in sensitive positions such as in the Air Force and Navy.
The Straits Times reported the founding prime minister as saying in Sep 1999:
If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background … I’m saying these things because they are real, and if I don’t think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn’t think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy.
Putting a Muslim Singaporean “in a sensitive position where he has to deal with Israeli tech”, which “he knows is the same tech that is used to lay siege on Palestine”, said SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh, would put him in a difficult predicament.
“Lee Kuan Yew wasn’t racist. He just didn’t want our Muslim countrymen to be put in a position where they have to decide between country and god. The best position is not having to decide at all,” SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh added.
Soon after the post was published, several police reports were filed against the page over the post including one by lawyer Syazana Yahya. In a Facebook post of her own on 23 May, Ms Syazana said that the offending post is seditious, as it “casts aspersions on a Singaporean Muslim’s loyalty to its nation”.
“It falsely suggests that when a Muslim person is in a war with a religious element, he/she will turn his/her back on Singapore,” she said.
Countering such an assertion, Ms Syazana stressed that a Muslim’s “primary obligation in Islam is towards his family and country”.
“However, a non-Muslim reading this post (who may not understand Islam) will likely believe this post to be true. That a Singaporean Muslim’s loyalty is questionable in times of war. That Singaporean Muslims are predisposed to be traitors.
“This is a blatant attempt to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will by non-Muslims against Muslims. It is surely an offence under s 298A, Penal Code,” she said.
Following backlash and news of police reports being filed, SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh had issued an apology to the Muslim community in Singapore in a follow-up post the next day after the offending post was removed.
The ‘satirical’ Facebook page said that its earlier post was not meant to “question the loyalty of Muslims in Singapore but to reaffirm a Muslim’s commitment to his religion”.
The next day, Ms Syazana said that apologies have never absolved individuals of liability, as demonstrated in previous cases involving police reports made against high-profile figures who spoke up against discrimination against minorities in Singapore.
TOC notes that the police only contacted Ms Syazana after we ran our last story on the subject, titled “Why are authorities so silent over police report filed against SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh’s seditious post?”, on 31 May, a week after the police report was filed. The police then conducted an interview with the lawyer.
Police close case against SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh
However, after all that, the lawyer received a letter from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) informing her in a letter dated 29 June that they have decided not to take further action on her report, noting that “all investigations and enquiries into the matter would cease and the case will be closed”.
The decision was made in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Ms Syazana told TOC: “I’m quite surprised by the outcome. I had expected, at the very least, a stern warning to be issued given how similar (and less serious) cases were treated in the past.
“I had also expected the people responsible for the post to be held accountable. Yet, they remain anonymous and continue to live their lives as if they had not enraged the feelings of an entire community.
“The overall response by the authorities was also surprisingly very muted, even though this was an incident which clearly angered the community. I am quite puzzled by this.
Overall, it just feels like an incident swept under the rug with no steps taken to address the wrongdoing.”
Now, the follow-up post by SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh in which it apologises for the earlier offending post received a lot of backlash from netizens who said that the page’s views merely serve to perpetuate the same kind of prejudice against Malay-Muslim Singaporeans that has enabled policies restricting them from holding sensitive vocations in the Republic’s air force and Navy for decades.
The large number of people who were offended by the apology raises questions as to the decision by the SPF and the AGC to close the case.
After all, the Sedition Act in Singapore states that:
A seditious tendency is a tendency —
(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;
(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;
(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.
How have authorities dealt with similar cases in the past?
The closing of this case and how it seems to have been deal with utmost secrecy is even more baffling given how the police have dealt with similar cases of sedition in the past.
Two years ago, the police promptly acted on a police report against sibling duo of YouTube fame, Preeti Nair — known as Preetipls — and Subhas Nair for the satirical rap video they made and posted online in response to a racist “brownface” ad by e-payments company Nets.
The video titled “K. Muthusamy” contains offensive content. In the video, the siblings can be seen repeatedly uttering “Chinese people always out here f***king it up”, while condemning Chinese Singaporeans who they claim are racist and exploit minorities for money.
Some of the questions raised in the video include “How can a man wear brown and wear a tudung? Two wrongs don’t make a right” highlighting how it is not right for Chew to act as a Malay woman and an Indian man, as well as C.M.I.O which originally stands for Chinese, Malay, Indian and others, has now changed to “Cancel minority is ok!”.
The video also said that this is not the first time such an incident has happened as a previous Deepavali advertisement had a Chinese dressed up as a Sikh man.
In a statement on 30 Jul 2019 — a day after the music video was uploaded — police said that it was investigating the matter for “offensive content” in the clip.
“The police will not tolerate any offensive content that causes ill-will between races,” they said.
The video was quickly taken down from various platforms, and the duo was eventually given a 2-year conditional stern warning by the police. The entire saga was the talk of the nation for several weeks.
Even so, we note that no action was taken against those behind the E-Pay ad that inspired the music video in the first place. Nets was only given a stern reminder by the Infocomm Media Development Authority. The Attorney-General’s Chambers had advised that no criminal offence had been committed, according to police.
In contrast, however, similar cases that involve those seemingly connected to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) have ended up with no result from the police today, at least none that have been made public.
A clear example of this is when three police reports were filed against former People’s Action Party Youth (YPAP) Jason Neo who made a racist about Muslim children in 2011.
Mr Neo had posted a photo he had taken of a school bus with Malay children from Huda Kindergarten, in Woodlands. The children were dressed in their uniform which includes traditional Malay headwear.
Mr Neo captioned the photo: “Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?”
His post went viral and caused a huge uproar of protests from many Singaporeans and members of the public. As a result, two PAP MPs who were also YPAP leaders had to later tender their apologies personally to the school.
Under public pressure, Mr Neo later resigned from the YPAP altogether. He had also issued an “unreserved apology” to the Muslim community.
However, while the police said they investigated the incident, there has been no update from the police beyond that to date.
The lack of action taken against Mr Neo and SMRT Feedback can also be compared to that of the swift action taken against Amos Yee who had made insensitive remarks against religious people in a YouTube video.
Mr Yee faced charges under Section 98 of the Penal Code which states:
“Whoever, with deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or makes any gesture in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, or causes any matter however represented to be seen or heard by that person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.”
While reports against Mr Neo were made along those lines as well, no action was taken against him.
In fact, one of the people who filed a report against Mr Neo in 2011 posted on the SPF Facebook page in 2015 that they were still waiting for an update from the authorities on the matter four years later.
The man stated that the last letter he received from SPF noted that they were investigating the matter and would inform him of any fresh developments. However, years passed with no updates or closure.
He told TOC recently, “I don’t recall they came back to me at all.”
However, the police insisted that they had already written back to him sometime in 2013.
Regardless, we also note that in similar cases in the past, if the police decide not to proceed with the case, the name of the person being investigated or reported against is, at least, usually revealed.
However, in the case of the police report filed against SMRT feedback, the name of the person behind SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh has never been disclosed by the police.
The level of secrecy being applied in this case of alleged sedition does beg the question of whether the administrators of the FB page, SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh is connected with the establishment.