SINGAPORE - A former Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer, who was seen in a widely shared video making racist remarks to an inter-ethnic couple in 2021, was on Thursday sentenced to five weeks’ jail and a $6,000 fine.
Tan Boon Lee, 61, had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges – one count of wounding an individual’s racial feelings, for which the jail term was imposed, and another of possessing obscene films, which accounted for the fine.
Two more charges of committing acts that he knew were prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious groups were taken into consideration for his sentencing.
In sentencing him, Principal District Judge Victor Yeo said Tan’s remarks were “most troubling” as they insinuated that there was something wrong with being a certain race, and could thus undermine racial harmony in Singapore.
“I cannot ignore the embarrassment and hurt felt by (the couple) and the public disquiet generated. He had clearly crossed the red line,” said the judge.
On June 5, 2021, Tan, who was at the time a lecturer in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s engineering department, directed racist remarks at Mr Dave Parkash, 26, in the vicinity of Angullia Park in Orchard Road.
Mr Parkash, a Singaporean who is half-Indian and half-Filipino, was with his girlfriend, Ms Jacqueline Ho, at the time.
They were walking towards a carpark in Orchard Boulevard when Tan crossed paths with them and made the comment that it was “such a disgrace, Indian man with a Chinese girl”.
Ms Ho, who is half-Thai and half-Singaporean Chinese, recorded the confrontation that followed and Mr Parkash shared the nine-minute-long video on Facebook.
In it, Tan accused Mr Parkash of “preying on a Chinese girl”. He also said a Chinese woman should not be with an Indian man.
Tan added: “The only thing is when you’re preying on Chinese girl, I tell you the Chinese don’t like it.”
He also told Mr Parkash: “If you are proud of your own race, you marry somebody Indian.”
Tan then said Mr Parkash’s girlfriend’s parents would be disgraced as she was dating an Indian man.
He added: “You do not see a Chinese guy going to an Indian girl. There is a reason. There is something wrong with the race, there is something wrong with the colour. If she is an Indian, you may not like her. (Your girlfriend) is Chinese.”
About a month after his outburst, Tan issued a formal apology on Facebook.
Separately, in June 2021, the police uncovered 64 obscene videos on Tan’s phone.
These videos showed women engaged in sexual acts, and they were downloaded from online sources or sent by his friends for his personal enjoyment.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Yeow Xuan sought at least four weeks’ jail for Tan, saying earlier that his racist remarks were “vile and sustained”.
Defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam sought a community-based sentence for his client. He told the court in November that his client had taught at Ngee Ann Polytechnic for more than 30 years and had never discriminated against anyone based on race and religion.
He also said that Tan’s daughter had run away from home with her Indian boyfriend and this weighed on his client’s mind when he saw the couple.
The judge said on Thursday that while Tan felt it was Mr Parkash who was trying to disturb racial harmony by uploading the video, it was Tan who had approached the couple and directed his unhappiness towards them. “He was aware that Ms Ho was recording the entire incident, but he had no qualms with continuing with his racist and hurtful remarks.”
The judge noted that it was to the couple’s credit that they stayed relatively calm despite Tan’s persistent harassment as the matter could have easily escalated to the use of vulgarities or violence.
The judge added that the number of police reports involving racial or religious friction has risen over the years and the courts must deal with such offences firmly and severely.
Those who deliberately wound the religious or racial feelings of a person may be jailed for up to three years, fined, or both.
Those who possess obscene films may be fined up to $40,000, or jailed for up to a year, or both.