Retired lecturer jailed for inciting violence

Facebook posts intended to stir up hate against Caucasians: Judge

The judge said Tang Koon Huat was either consumed with rage, or he was careless or just did not care about the consequences of his actions.
The judge said Tang Koon Huat was either consumed with rage, or he was careless or just did not care about the consequences of his actions.

The retired Singapore Polytechnic lecturer who created a Facebook account and posted words to incite violence on the "Act for Singapore" (AFS) Facebook page was sentenced to three months' jail yesterday.

On Jan 14 last year, Tang Koon Huat, 63, wrote that it was about time to form a Singaporean vigilante group to beat up "troublesome drunk" Caucasians in the drinking joints and teach these "bumps" (sic) a lesson. He had used the moniker "Emett Haqq".

It was reported that day that Briton Alan Benjamin Maybury, 35, was given the maximum $5,000 fine for punching a 19-year-old polytechnic student in a road rage incident on Nov 30, 2014.

Tang, who was arrested on Aug 15 last year, had created the AFS page because of his negative perceptions about the influx of foreigners and the declining population of "native Singaporeans".

District Judge Mathew Joseph said an incitement to violence is offensive conduct that can harm public peace and good order, with the potential to cause serious injuries and property damage.

Tang, he said, had perversely exploited the anonymity of the Internet. His comments were clearly words inciting violence, and he had intended to stir up hate and anger against Caucasians in Singapore.

What he posted had a "chilling effect", with a "pernicious potential for greater and wider harm" than two similar cases, said the judge. He said a "vent and rant" Internet moment can never be excused as a momentary lapse.

Deterrent sentences had to be imposed to deter such irresponsible and extreme online postings, said the judge. "It is therefore important to send a strong signal that the Internet is not an entirely unregulated space wherein calls to violence are treated as acceptable everyday communications," he added.

Judge Joseph said one would have expected Tang, with over 30 years' teaching experience, to "know better", but the educator did not.

"Either he was consumed with rage, or he was careless or he just did not care for the consequences of his actions. That was his sad downfall," he said.

This case, he added, serves to warn all that the Internet and social media cannot be seen as a safe space online to carry out nefarious acts. "To play the role of a keyboard commando and carry out stealth attacks online is to invite a swift, sure and strong counter-attack from the law and the courts," said Judge Joseph.

Tang was represented by lawyers Alfred Dodwell and Ahnushka Kaur Riar. Arguing for a fine to be imposed, Ms Riar said it cannot be said in this day and age that everyone is expected to toe the line and comment only positively. "There must be space where people can express negative comments and if someone dislikes foreigners, it is his freedom and prerogative to do so and it cannot be expected of everyone to sing the same tune as everyone else," she said.

The prosecution said the argument was completely misconceived and wholly ignored the fact that the right to free speech is not absolute and must be balanced against the public interest.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani and Assistant Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran had sought at least three months' jail in line with the sentencing precedents of Gary Yue and Chia Choon Kiat, both for incitement of violence.

Yue, a former ST Kinetics engineer, had his $6,000 fine increased to two months' jail on the prosecution's appeal in 2012, and Chia, an Internet marketeer, was jailed six months last year after admitting to three of eight charges.

Tang could have been jailed for up to five years and/or fined for inciting violence.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline Retired lecturer jailed for inciting violence. Subscribe