Attacks on madrasah students: Ministers urge restraint to prevent split in society

The Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah school building.
The Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah school building.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

A 48-year-old Singaporean will be charged in court this morning over an alleged attack on three madrasah students last Friday.

He is expected to be charged under the Penal Code for committing a rash act and for voluntarily causing hurt. He will face enhanced penalties if the offence is found to be racially or religiously aggravated.

He has been identified as Koh Weng Onn.

The three female students, aged 14 to 16, were making their separate ways to Madrasah Al-Ma'arif Al-Islamiah in Geylang at around 7.20am when the man allegedly accosted them near Paya Lebar MRT station.

The school's discipline mistress Nisha Mohd Hussein had posted on Facebook that the first girl was allegedly kicked on the left thigh, the second was allegedly hit with a plastic bag containing "a heavy item", and the third was believed to have been hit in one of her eyes with the bag.

NOT TOLERATED

Any attack on any student in Singapore is wrong, full stop. You don't attack people in Singapore in that manner; you don't attack people because of race, language or religion. We don't condone this, and, as a society, we will never allow this to happen to anyone.

MR CHAN CHUN SING, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, on an attack on three madrasah students last Friday. A 48-year-old man will be charged in court today.

Police said the man was arrested last Saturday. Yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a Facebook post it was reassuring that police had tracked down the suspect quickly.

But he urged the public to avoid speculation on the attacker's motives in the meantime.

Mr Shanmugam said he had been asked if the incident was an Islamophobic attack.

He had warned about Islamophobia, or prejudice against Islam, two days before the attack. He said yesterday: "It can be a cancer that destroys the soul of our country. We cannot tolerate that and MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) will act."

But he added: "In this case, we do not know the detailed facts, the motives, and should wait for the investigations to be completed."

Yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing also denounced the attack, and said Singapore will not condone any kind of attack of this nature.

"Any attack on any student in Singapore is wrong, full stop," he said.

"You don't attack people in Singapore in that manner; you don't attack people because of race, language or religion," he added.

 

Mr Chan was speaking to reporters after a closed-door dialogue with religious and community leaders at Khadijah Mosque in Geylang. He said he was encouraged that none of the leaders at the session jumped to any conclusions about the motives behind the attacks.

"As leaders, we would encourage our people to respond and react in a calm and constructive way," he said. "It shows a certain level of maturity that we can be very proud of as fellow Singaporeans, that we don't always react to things and try to cast a race, language or religion angle to it unnecessarily."

Geylang Serai Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle co-chair Eric Wong said years of having religious leaders of all stripes working together on various projects has forged "a basic understanding and harmony". "We should let the police do their part," he added.

The Catholic Archdiocese said in a Facebook post that it was saddened to hear of the attack.

"Aggression against anyone for their religious persuasion or ethnicity should never be allowed to take root in a multiracial and multi-religious society like Singapore," it said. "As Catholics, our hearts and prayers are with the three girls and their families, as we stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters."

Koh's older brother, Mr Muhammad Johan Koh, a relief security guard who is a Muslim convert, contacted Today newspaper yesterday to apologise for the incident, Today reported on its website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Ministers urge restraint to prevent split in society'. Print Edition | Subscribe