Get racial and religious harmony offenders to do community work

Racial and religious harmony is a core principle in Singapore. In an age of resurgent tribalism and identity politics, Singapore society must engage in an ongoing effort to secure progress as one nation regardless of race, language or religion.

In the light of recent incidents and the ongoing review of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the Government should consider introducing community service as an additional penalty for offences against racial or religious harmony.

Courts have generally imposed custodial sentences for offences related to race and religion because of the sensitivity of such issues.

But the courts also take into account apologies made by offenders as mitigating factors in sentencing, buttressing the importance of repentance and forgiveness.

In 2010, Parliament amended the Criminal Procedure Code to introduce community-based sentencing options for offences such as regulatory offences and for offenders needing rehabilitation, such as younger people and people with specific and minor mental conditions.

Orders that can be made include community work and community service orders.

Rehabilitation is aimed at turning offenders away from crime by altering their values. The principle undergirding this proposal is based on a related concept more aptly termed as "reconciliation", where those who damage racial or religious harmony should do their part to help repair the damage they caused.

A Singapore citizen who has committed an offence against racial and religious harmony still remains part of the community even after the incident has taken place, the punishment is meted out, and the sentence is served.

Such a person is not an "outlaw", but deserves to be restored back to society after the debt has been paid.

Accordingly, I suggest that the courts be empowered to make orders for those who offend against racial or religious harmony to repay their debt through community service in voluntary welfare organisations serving other racial groups, or working to build religious harmony.

Such sentences can be imposed in lieu of, or on top of, sentences of fines or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence, taking into account all aggravating and mitigating factors.

Darius Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2019, with the headline 'Get racial and religious harmony offenders to do community work'. Print Edition | Subscribe