What does authorities’ decision to close the case on SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh’s seditious post signal to the public?

In what appears to be a departure from the common outcome in cases concerning racial or religious sensitivities, the authorities have decided to take no further action against Facebook page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh over a now-deleted Facebook post in May, almost two months since police reports were made against it.

In the offending post dated 21 May, 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.

The lawyer eventually received a letter from the police, 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 (AGC).

Ms Syazana told TOC that she was “quite surprised by the outcome”, as she had anticipated “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.”

Closure of SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh case: Strange departure from authorities’ usual action?

What AGC and the police have done in SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh’s case here appears to be awfully strange, especially given their decisions in past cases involving or relating to sedition.

A couple of such past cases are that of the duo behind The Real Singapore whose home was ransacked and who were themselves charged in court, and the separate case of the Malay man behind the fake Twitter account ‘sharonliew86’ who was also charged in court and sentenced to a three-week jail term.

These are cases where the identities of the page owners were anonymous but were eventually made public when the police commenced investigations upon them.

It must also be noted that Ms Syazana had earlier pointed out that many Singaporeans, particularly from minority communities, were outraged by how in the cases of the Nair siblings and that of Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan, the individuals who spoke up against discrimination were subjected to police investigations for offences pertaining to racism instead.

“Nevertheless, many Singaporeans begrudgingly accepted the decision in hopes that if the tables were turned, and a racist comment was made against minority communities instead, the state machinery will clamp down on them as they did with Ms Raeesah and Preetipls,” she said.

“In my view, the actions of Ms Raeesah and Preetipls pales in comparison to that of SMRT Feedback, which associated Singaporean Muslims to an Al-Qaeda terrorist leader.”

Thus, given the outrage from the Malay-Muslim community over the post made by SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh, one would have expected to see at least a warning letter issued by the authorities against the page.

The response issued by the police and AGC to the media did not also address if they had even conducted an interview with the administrator of the page. If they had, a press statement would have been issued to state “The police has conducted an interview with so and so who is the administrator of the Facebook fanpage which is a subject of police investigation”. But so far, nothing has been said by the police, all hush hush.

Now, people may ask if the police could have known who the admin is.

As a matter of fact, the police, along with other agencies, have the authority to request details on users behind Facebook pages such as particulars on who the said pages’ owners are, as disclosed by Facebook.

Furthermore, if the Facebook page had been run by a fake account, it would have been deleted in tandem with Facebook’s guidelines, such as what had happened with the Fabrications about the PAP page.

We have reported in the past about the antics of the SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh page after 2015, where the previous admins handed over the page to another owner and had been the originators of articles that spurred prosecution of individuals, such as the leak of Lee Shengwu’s private Facebook post which the AGC followed up with a charge of contempt and his subsequent conviction.

While the SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh page has not posted any updates since it made its public apology, its new affiliated website, Observer Plus, has made several posts in the meantime.

Going back to the decision of AGC and Police, one has to wonder: Why are the AGC and police making what appears to be efforts to obscure the identity of SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh’s administrator(s)?

Many have hypothesised that the page is run by the PAP-sponsored internet brigade, or even agents provocateurs allegedly linked to ministries. Could the authorities’ recent action indicate that there is some truth to such speculation?

What is clear now, however, is that the decision to not even issue a warning or name the person who made the post—in contrast to the various other cases the authorities had took action on—has created distrust in the authorities on the public’s end.

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