Need to step up efforts against hate speech: Minister

SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS JOSEPHINE TEO
SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS JOSEPHINE TEO

Thoughtless words can stir tensions, she says, highlighting a false accusation against police

Thoughtless remarks and careless words that go viral instantaneously can easily undo racial harmony and disrupt the multicultural society in Singapore, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Highlighting a recent incident where the police were falsely accused of having targeted Malays during their enforcement checks at MRT stations, Mrs Teo said such baseless allegations stir up racial tensions and damage people's confidence in the Home Team.

"We must redouble our efforts against hate speech and attempts to break our social cohesion," she said.

These remarks by Mrs Teo came amid an ongoing controversy over a rap video, widely criticised as racist, by YouTube entertainer Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas Nair. They made the video in response to a "brownface" advertisement to promote e-payment website epaysg.com that featured Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew portraying characters such as a woman in a tudung and a man with visibly darker skin.

Mrs Teo was speaking to a group of Home Team officers and volunteers gathered for the annual Home Team National Day Observance Ceremony.

"We will update the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to strengthen our levers against elements that may harm our religious harmony," she said.

The minister, in her remarks, also outlined two other security challenges for Singapore - extremist ideology and foreign interference.

She pointed out that terrorists could easily spread their propaganda online and people may get self-radicalised, while Singapore must guard against foreign interference and not risk being manipulated.

KEEPING SINGAPORE SAFE

Our Singapore is for all of us to defend. To keep it safe and secure, and a home that we will always feel comfortable in, every Home Team officer's effort makes a difference.

SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS JOSEPHINE TEO

There were also the security risks associated with Singapore's open borders, said Mrs Teo, citing the incident last month when Myanmar nationals were deported after they were found to have organised and garnered support for armed violence against the Myanmar government.

"Events like these do not mean that we should close our borders, but we need to be vigilant to who is allowed to stay here. Our hospitality should not be exploited to the detriment of our people," she said, noting that new technology could help keep borders secure.

Singapore must also be vigilant against terrorist activities and build resilience against extremism, said Mrs Teo, highlighting the fact that SGSecure initiatives could help raise awareness of early signs of self-radicalisation.

 
 
 
 
 

In preventing foreign interference, Singapore must nurture a digitally literate and discerning public, and the legal framework must be updated with powers to expose the covert behaviour of foreign actors, she said.

Mrs Teo told the gathering that as 2019 marked Singapore's bicentennial, the team behind the event pondered and consulted people on important questions such as what Singaporeans believe defined them as a people.

"No two persons had exactly the same views, but there were common traits identified," she said.

These included Singapore's openness to people, trade and investment, multiculturalism which undergirds the national identity, and the belief that self-determination has bound Singaporeans to be masters of their own fate.

"These traits continue to be important for our survival and success, but they also point to the challenges we face," said Mrs Teo.

"Our Singapore is for all of us to defend. To keep it safe and secure, and a home that we will always feel comfortable in, every Home Team officer's effort makes a difference," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2019, with the headline 'Need to step up efforts against hate speech: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe