Key amendments to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

Social media influencer Sheena Phua with Young Sikh Association (YSA) president Sarabjeet Singh (at right) and a volunteer at the Central Sikh Temple. Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam cited the association's reaching out to Ms Phua as an ex
Social media influencer Sheena Phua with Young Sikh Association (YSA) president Sarabjeet Singh (at right) and a volunteer at the Central Sikh Temple. Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam cited the association's reaching out to Ms Phua as an example of the essence of a new feature in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act - the Community Remedial Initiative. Ms Phua had uploaded photos of two Sikh men in turbans at the Formula One Grand Prix, calling them "huge obstructions". But instead of criticising her, the YSA invited her to visit the temple to learn about their traditions. Mr Shanmugam echoed Sikh Advisory Board secretary Malminderjit Singh's observation that this was a "First World response to a Third World incident", saying: "These young men understood that, at times, insensitive and derogatory comments can come from a place of ignorance, and that the better and more sustainable path is not of hate or taking sides, but of friendship, respect and learning about each other." PHOTO: YOUNG SIKH ASSOCIATION/ FACEBOOK

ON FOREIGN INFLUENCE

Religious groups will be required to disclose single foreign donations of $10,000 or more, and their president, secretary and treasurer must be Singapore citizens or permanent residents. The majority of their executive committee or governing body must be Singapore citizens, and they must declare any foreign affiliations.

ON RESTRAINING ORDERS

Restraining orders issued under the Act will take effect immediately to prevent offensive statements from spreading on social media. This includes ceasing all communication of the offensive material and removing it from the Internet.

Currently, the Government has to serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

MORE SERIOUS OFFENCES

The Act will be extra-territorial, covering offences committed overseas so long as they target, and have an impact on, Singapore.

Urging violence against another person or group is also considered a more serious offence than insulting or ridiculing a religion. Mr K. Shanmugam noted that action can be taken if any religious group or its member attacks another party, including LGBTQ groups or individuals, on religious grounds.

 
 
 

Religious leaders are subject to a lower threshold for offences, as they have greater ability to influence and mobilise followers.

STRENGTHENING THE LAW

Section 74 of the Penal Code, which describes enhanced penalties for racially or religiously aggravated offences, will also be strengthened.

Maximum punishments will be increased from 11/2 times to two, if the offender targets a victim because of his race or religion. They will cover all offences in the Penal Code, not just specific ones.

REMEDIAL INITIATIVE

The Minister for Home Affairs may offer an offender the opportunity to mend ties, such as by a public or private apology to the aggrieved parties, or taking part in inter-religious events. While this Community Remedial Initiative is not mandatory, if it is completed, criminal prosecution will not be taken against the offender. But this is not an option, for instance, in serious cases of inciting violence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'Key amendments to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act'. Print Edition | Subscribe