SINGAPORE - Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara had been on Singapore authorities' radar for some time, when it emerged that some individuals investigated for radicalisation had been watching his videos and following his preachings.
Among them was a 17-year-old detained under the Internal Security Act in January 2020. The teen had watched Somad's YouTube lectures on suicide bombing, and began to believe suicide bombers are martyrs, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (May 23).
"Somad's preachings have real world consequences," he told reporters at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) headquarters in the Novena area.
The minister also cited recent examples of remarks Somad's supporters have posted online since the preacher was denied entry to Singapore last week, to illustrate the direct threats made.
His supporters have made comments calling for the Republic to be bombed and destroyed, with one - since removed by Facebook parent company Meta - threatening to "send Islamic defender troops... to attack your country like 9/11 in New York 2001, and we will also expel Singaporeans who pretend to transit and live in Indonesia".
Another comment declared: "Small country, yet so arrogant, with just one missile and you are finished."
Somad was turned away at Singapore's borders on May 16 over what MHA said were his "extremist and segregationist teachings, which are unacceptable in Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society".
The preacher has a sizeable following back home, where he is a divisive figure.
After Somad publicised his being denied entry, his online supporters spammed the social media pages of President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several other political office-holders and agencies, leaving hashtags such as #SaveUstadzAbdulSomad.
Somad had travelled to Singapore from Batam with six other people but was put on a boat back to the Indonesian island after being interviewed by immigration officials at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
Explaining the decision, MHA said last week - a point Mr Shanmugam reiterated on Monday - that Somad has claimed suicide bombings are legitimate martyrdom operations. They also noted that Somad had made highly derogatory, denigrating remarks about Christianity, by saying "infidel spirits" live on the crucifix.
Somad has also labelled non-Muslims as kafirs, or infidels, and preached that Muslims should not accept non-Muslims as their leaders, saying non-Muslims could conspire to oppress Muslims and "slit their throats", the minister added.
Mr Shanmugam said someone saying this in Singapore would be visited by the Internal Security Department and put behind bars.
"The language, the rhetoric, as you can see, is very divisive - completely unacceptable in Singapore," he said. "Racial, religious harmony, we consider (these) fundamental to our society and most Singaporeans accept that.
Last Friday, the cleric's supporters also gathered outside the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the Singapore consulate-general in Medan to protest against the Republic's decision and call for an apology, among other demands.
Mr Shanmugam noted Somad's popularity in Indonesia - with 6.5 million followers on Instagram, 2.7 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 700,000 followers on Facebook.
"In my own perspective, the denial has given him publicity," said Mr Shanmugam. "He is making maximum use of the publicity and he is now, in my view, engaging in more publicity stunts. He has said that he will try to enter Singapore again."
The reason given by Somad, in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday, was that Singapore was "Tanah Melayu" (Malay land) and part of Riau, as well as a "Temasek Malay Kingdom".
"Therefore, our sovereignty is irrelevant. We are not a separate country from his perspective," said Mr Shanmugam. "Many of his supporters, mostly in Indonesia, have been riled up. They say Singapore is being 'disrespectful' towards Muslims and Islamic religious scholars."
The minister noted that other places have also denied Somad entry in recent years, including Hong Kong, Timor Leste, Britain, Germany and Switzerland.
He said: "I wonder if Somad's supporters also threatened China, because he was refused entry into Hong Kong, and threatened the other European countries. Or is it only that Singapore gets special mention and they are brave enough to threaten Singapore, but not the others?
"Majority of Singaporeans, all races and religions, support the decision to refuse Somad entry into the country. They know that in Singapore, all religions are treated equally, on the same basis. Somad was not singled out for his religion, but his views, which are unacceptable in the Singapore context."
Somad's views have been criticised by mainstream Muslim leaders in Indonesia, and the country's National Counterterrorism Agency has backed Singapore's stance, calling it a lesson in combating radical ideology that could lead to terrorism.
Mr Shanmugam described the response of the Indonesian government as very proper and very correct.
"It accepts that it is for Singapore to decide who can come into Singapore. That's absolutely right, just like it is for Indonesia to decide who can go into Indonesia. It is for every country to decide who can go into that country - basic aspect of sovereignty," he said.
The minister added that his sense is that the majority of Indonesians "recognise what Somad and his supporters are really up to".
As for Somad and his supporters, they do not respect Singapore as a separate country, the minister said. "They can tell us what to do. It tells you what they really think of Singapore. And if we don't do what they tell us, then they threaten attacks," he added.
"I'm grateful that so many Indonesians - officials as well as commentators - have rejected these claims and defended Singapore. They know the accusations against Singapore are false," Mr Shanmugam said.
"I have said this on many occasions - we take a zero-tolerance approach and even-handed approach towards any form of hate speech and divisive ideology. And it is not directed at any specific individual, or any specific religion, or any specific nationality. Our position applies equally to all."