MHA warns against distributing radical works

 Bangladeshi workers spending their day off at the Lembu Road open space on January 21.
Bangladeshi workers spending their day off at the Lembu Road open space on January 21. PHOTO: ST FILE

Those who distribute publications that promote radical leanings will be dealt with firmly under the law, the authorities here warned.

"Anyone found doing so will be investigated for purveying extremist ideas," a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman said yesterday.

"The authorities take a very serious view of the distribution and propagation of radical teachings and ideology," the spokesman added in a reply to The Straits Times.

He was asked whether hardline material was being handed out here, after an English newspaper in Bangladesh, the Dhaka Tribune, reported on Saturday that books spreading radical teachings were being distributed to Bangladeshi workers in Little India this month.

The report comes six months after Singapore announced the arrest of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers. The men, who were sharing militant books and videos, met weekly and were recruiting other workers. They were nabbed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in November and December last year.

All have since been deported, and 14 were arrested by the Bangladeshi authorities upon their return.

A second group of radicalised men were picked up between late March and early April. Another eight Bangladeshi workers were arrested for being members of a clandestine group that called itself the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB).

They were planning to foment violence back home to topple the government, and set up a caliphate under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

Six were charged with financing terrorism - four were sentenced to between two and five years in jail this month and two have claimed trial. Another two remain in detention under the ISA.

Five others who were not involved in ISB but had shared radical material were deported, and arrested on arrival in Bangladesh.

The two waves of arrests have prompted Singapore leaders to warn that while those arrested were funding and plotting attacks on targets back home, they could easily have turned their attention to Singapore targets.

Just last week, the Ministry of Communications and Information banned Al Fatihin, a hardline newspaper published by Furat Media, a media agency linked to ISIS.

The ban makes it an offence to distribute the newspaper, largely in Bahasa Indonesia, by any means.

There are an estimated 160,000 Bangladeshi nationals here, mostly work permit holders doing manual jobs at construction sites and shipyards.

When reporters spoke to a dozen Bangladeshi workers in Little India yesterday, none was aware of radical literature being distributed.

"I haven't seen or heard copies of objectionable books being distributed in this area in recent weeks," said Mr Abu Taher, a worker in his 30s at Hirajheel Restaurant near Mustafa Centre. He has been working in Singapore for over a year. "This open activity is quite impossible after the crackdown on suspected Bangladeshi militants," he added.

A large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers living in various places in Singapore gather in the area every Sunday to meet and chat.

Workers Mohammad Uzzal and Khakon Chandra, both in their 40s, said some of their countrymen used to meet in groups and talk in hushed tones in the area on Sundays, but they have not seen anything like that recently.

When asked about the reports of radical material and books being distributed, several workers reacted angrily. They said that even if the report were true, it would be damaging for Bangladeshi workers in Singapore who are already in the spotlight because of the recent arrests of their radicalised countrymen.

Several Bangladeshi workers whom The Straits Times interviewed after the earlier arrests felt that their companies and dormitories were already keeping a lookout for radical behaviour.

The discovery and detention of the radicalised workers has also led many in their circles to avoid talking about the issue for fear that they might lose their jobs.

Mr Abdul Khaeer Mohammed Mohsin, editor of local Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha, said the latest development showed that Singapore remains a target for the likes of ISIS to recruit supporters.

"Singapore is a peaceful place and we have to remain vigilant," said the Singapore permanent resident.

• Mr M Abul Kalam Azad is in Singapore for the Asia Journalism Fellowship programme.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'MHA warns against distributing radical works'. Print Edition | Subscribe