Parliament: Govt will not tolerate religious preaching that encourages violence, says Shanmugam in response to imam's alleged inflammatory remarks

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam sketched out the tense security backdrop in the region.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam sketched out the tense security backdrop in the region.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - The police are looking into the conduct of all involved in the case of an imam who allegedly made insensitive comments about Christians and Jews, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Friday (March 3).

This includes an academic who had expressed support for the imam, he said in response Mr Chris de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), who asked about the case.

A video of an imam saying a prayer after a sermon at Jamae Mosque in South Bridge Road was uploaded on Facebook last week.

The imam used the Arabic word "fanswurna" - which means "to overcome" or "to grant victory over" - when he spoke about Christians and Jews, a word the uploader said was problematic when used in relation to other religions. A police report has been lodged.

Investigations are ongoing, said Mr Shanmugam during the debate on his ministry's budget: "We will know the context of what he said, once the investigations have finished."

However, he made clear the Government's position - it will not tolerate any religious preaching that encourages violence or seeks to pit one religion against another.

"If the imam had referred to the phrase, to say, for example, that this is not acceptable in a multi-religious society, then there can be no objection. But if he had said that Jews and Christians should be defeated, to make that very point, then that is completely unacceptable," he said.

"The Government has taken a strict position when Muslims have been attacked. People have been charged, sent to jail. The same applies to any attack on any other religions."

He gave the example of a Christian couple sentenced to eight weeks' jail in 2009 for distributing material that cast Islam in a negative light.

If the imam is found to not have made any inflammatory suggestion, no action will be taken, and a public statement will be issued. But, if he had indeed made such suggestions, or engaged in such preaching, "appropriate action" will be taken, said Mr Shanmugam.

He named National University of Singapore academic Khairudin Aljunied, whom he said had criticised the individual who made public what the imam said.

"Mr Khairudin has encouraged vilification of that individual. Looking at what he has said, he seems to suggest that it is okay for the imam to say that Jews and Christians should be defeated. And he assumes that the imam intended to mean that, and sees nothing wrong with that," said Mr Shanmugam.

"Mr Khairudin's position and actions are quite unacceptable. He has jumped into this, without verifying the facts, and without checking the context. And supports a position that is quite contrary to the norms, values and laws in Singapore."

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam also sketched out the tense security backdrop in the region, as he described how the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has drawn closer to home.

ISIS-related attacks were carried out in Indonesia and Malaysia in 2016, and the terror group also plans to create a wilayat, or province, in the southern Philippines, he noted. "ISIS seems to be concentrating on southern Philippines."

Foreign terrorist fighters returning to the region also pose a concern, he added, warning that they come armed with skills and extremist ideology, and will plot attacks.

Singapore took security action against nine Singaporeans in 2016, and the Home Team last year took significant steps to strengthen its counter-terrorism capabilities.

Responding to Mr de Souza and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), Mr Shanmugam listed the new measures being taken to bolster the counterterrorism response.

Video analytics capabilities will be developed from 2018 onwards to help boost the speed of response.

He also cited two steps being taken to strengthen capabilities: the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore has started enrolling iris images, which will help in more accurately verifying a person's identity, and the Police plan to equip its frontline officers with pistols for better firepower compared to revolvers.

He also recapped anti-terror measures enacted last year.

The Police Emergency Response Teams, which are specially equipped and trained to deal with terror attacks, have been launched, and are on the ground daily.

Major public exercises have also been held to hone operational preparedness, with the nation's largest counter-terrorism exercise yet, involving 3,200 participants, conducted in October last year.

And police cameras have been installed in 10,000 HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks, and are being installed in public areas, town and neighbourhood centres, and hawker centres. Over the next few years, about 11,000 police cameras will be installed at 2,500 locations islandwide.

He also gave updates on the national SG Secure movement which aims to get people ready for the event of a potential attack.

He said Crisis Response Exercises, which simulate attack scenarios, are being piloted within the constituencies, and Home Team psychologists will partner up with the People's Association.

Together with psychologists from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Institute of Mental Health, they will support and train grassroots leaders to provide psychological first aid to residents affected after an attack.