Retired poly lecturer jailed three months for inciting violence on Facebook

Former Singapore Polytechnic lecturer  Tang Koon Huat created a Facebook page to incite violence against Caucasians.
Former Singapore Polytechnic lecturer Tang Koon Huat created a Facebook page to incite violence against Caucasians. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A former Singapore Polytechnic lecturer who created a Facebook page to incite violence against Caucasians was jailed for three months on Monday (July 31).

Pretending to be "Emmet Haqq'', Tang Koon Huat, 63, posted on his "Act For Singapore'' (AFS) Facebook page racially offensive barbs calling on vigilantes to beat up a Briton who had been convicted over a road rage incident.

He was referring to a case on Jan 14, 2016, when Mr Alan Benjamin Maybury had been given the maximum fine of $5,000 for punching a teenage driver, Tang wrote: "It's about time to form a Singaporean vigilante group to go to beat up troublesome drunk'' Caucasians and "Teach these bumps (sic) a lesson" .

He was unhappy that the 35-year-old former consultant got away with a fine for beating up polytechnic student Lum Kok Weng, 19, after an accident on Nov 30, 2014.

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Investigation started after someone lodged a police report on Jan 19 last year stating that he had come across two Facebook posts which incited violence.

Tang, who was arrested on Aug 15 last year, had admitted that he had created the AFS page because of his negative perceptions about the influx of foreigners and the declining population of "native Singaporeans''.

In passing sentence, District Judge Mathew Joseph said violence could never be condoned. An incitement to violence, he said, was also offensive conduct that could cause harm to peace and good order with the potential to cause serious injury and property damage.

A strong signal had to be sent that the Internet is not entirely unbridled space or the Wild Wild West that calls to violence are treated as ordinary day to day communications .

He said in today's post-modern digital landscape and world of technology, the proliferation of social media has led to significantly large numbers of the population posting comments daily on cyberspace.

He said Tang had perversely exploited the anonymity of the Internet when he set up the Facebook page, AFS, to mask his identity and propagate his views on socio-political issues.

By posting the comments as stated in the charge, he had demonstrably intended to stir up hatred against Caucasians, he added.

The judge agreed with prosecutors Sanjiv Vaswani and Thiagesh Sukumaran that the degree of potential harm in Tang's case was higher than in two previous cases .

In the case of Gary Yue, who was jailed two months in 2012, the target of the aggression were dignitaries at the National Day grand stand. Meanwhile, Chia Choon incited violence against National Environment Agency anti-smoking enforcement officers. He was jailed for six months in 2016.

The judge said he could not agree with defence counsel's mitigation that the use of Tang's words to "beat up troublesome drunk'' Caucasians was not to be taken literally.

Judge Joseph said that as an educator with some 30 years' experience, one would have expected Tang to know better.

"Either you were consumed with rage or you were callous, or you just did not care for the consequences of your action. That was your sad downfall...'' he said.

The judge said this case serves as a warning to all parents, young children, young adults and even older and mature adults, that the Internet and social media cannot be seen as a safe space online to carry out nefarious acts including acts of inciting violence.

Arguing for a fine to be imposed, Tang's lawyer Ahnushka Kaur Riar said it cannot be said in this day and age that everyone is expected to toe the line and only comment positively in relation to their views.

"There must be space where people can express negative comments and if someone dislikes foreigners, it is his freedom and prerogative to do so and it cannot be expected of everyone to sing the same tune as everyone else,'' she said.

Tang could have been jailed for up to five years and/or fined for the offence.