Spike in race, religion-related police reports during year of Covid-19, GE2020: MHA

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the Government would take action against anyone who commits acts that sow enmity and threaten racial harmony.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the Government would take action against anyone who commits acts that sow enmity and threaten racial harmony.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - There was an increase in police reports made over racial and religious matters in 2020, with a number filed amid the Covid-19 outbreak and around the period of the general election, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (July 5).

Last year, 60 cases reported to the police were classified under Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code.

These sections cover acts that deliberately wound the racial and religious feelings of any person, promote enmity between different racial and religious groups, or that are prejudicial to the maintenance of racial and religious harmony.

In contrast, there were 31 cases in 2019, 18 in 2018, 11 in 2017 and 23 in 2016.

Mr Shanmugam provided these figures in a written response to a parliamentary question filed by MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who also asked for the Government's assessment of Singaporeans' readiness to navigate an increasingly polarised society.

The minister said the Government would have to continue to be an objective and neutral arbiter, and take action against anyone, regardless of race, who commits acts that sow enmity and threaten racial harmony.

"This gives confidence to all communities that they can trust the Government to safeguard their interests and to hold the ring on our race relations," he added.

But Mr Shanmugam also noted that not all allegations and accusations surfacing in the public sphere cross the lines for prosecution or legal action.

"If we prosecute every allegation, no matter how trivial, this could stoke people into making police reports for any perceived racial slight, real or misunderstood, or deliberately exaggerated. Over time, this could instead escalate tensions between races and undermine our hard-earned social harmony," he said.

"The law cannot be the solution in every situation... While we should speak out against clear acts of racism, we should be judicious in how we raise issues, in ways that bridge differences and not deepen fault lines."