Authorities’ vague explanation on dropping SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh case demonstrates “shocking lack of communication”, says journalist

The authorities’ vague explanation on their decision to no longer pursue investigations into a seditious post by Facebook page SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh demonstrates a “shocking lack of communication” to the public, says journalist Suhaile Md in a Facebook post on Wednesday (14 July).

Quoting what the police have told TODAY, in which it said that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) did not find “elements” that indicate “beyond reasonable doubt” that an offence had been committed, he asked: “What are the “elements of an offence”?”

“Not a peep from the authorities. AGC doesn’t even have the sense to explain its decision,” Mr Suhail said, noting that when TODAY sought the AGC’s comments, the AGC had referred to the police’s statement instead.

Mr Suhaile also questioned why “a troll page” was not even subjected to “a slap on the wrist” in the form of a stern warning.

YouTube sibling duo Preeti Nair and Subhas Nair were issued a two-year conditional warning in 2019 for a satirical rap video they made and posted online in response to a racist “brownface” ad by e-payment company Nets. This was in spite of their unconditional apology.

Last year, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Raeesah Khan was issued a stern warning over her two social media posts, despite her public apology.

Ms Khan, an MP for Sengkang GRC, had allegedly commented that Singapore law enforcement authorities discriminated against citizens, and that compared to other groups, rich Chinese and white people were treated differently under the law, according to the police in a statement.

“In the context of a news article on the City Harvest Church ruling, Raeesah Khan allegedly commented that Singapore jailed minorities mercilessly, harassed mosque leaders but let corrupt church leaders who stole S$50 million walk free, and questioned who had been paid,” said the police.

In a previous Facebook post on 23 May, Mr Suhaile said that continuing to prop up the narrative of questioning Malay loyalty “cannot lead to any good for any of us in Singapore”, and asked policymakers and those backing them to “realise how increasingly indefensible the current approach is”.

Citing the Chinese Communist Party’s “active attempts to revive ethnic pride in the Chinese diaspora”, Mr Suhaile asked: “You think it hasn’t reached Singapore?”

“If you assumed I’m referring to recently minted citizens of China-origin, then pause and wonder why. What makes a citizen, “new”? Are not many Chinese Singaporeans today just one or two generations removed from China? How long have the Malays been here?” He said.

Mr Suhaile continued: “What inherent blind spots do you have about nationality, loyalty, belonging?”

“At this point, if you wonder whether I overstepped a boundary by raising the “citizens of China-origin” point, and feel uncomfortable, then perhaps you might have a small sense of how so many of our Malay friends have felt for a long, long time. If you feel anger, again, that’s just a small measure. It sucks to have your loyalty questioned, persistently,” he added.

In the now-deleted 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 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,” said Ms Syazana.

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

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