Singapore has zero tolerance for hate speech: Teo Chee Hean

As the world emerges from the pandemic, international travel will surge, which could cause a renewed terrorism threat. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore takes a zero tolerance approach on hate speech, and while the Republic cannot stop it from coming through online, it can prevent it from physically coming into the country, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

SM Teo on Wednesday (June 1) stressed that extremist rhetoric has consequences, and highlighted the importance of community efforts to tackle the threat of terrorism.

"We need to ensure that our communities are resilient against extremist rhetoric, especially online. Our people, especially the young, must know to seek guidance from credible religious authorities, and to reject extremism and hate speech," he said.

Speaking virtually at a retreat organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa hotel, SM Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, brought up how Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara had instigated his supporters to agitate on social media against Singapore.

Somad was denied entry into Singapore last month over his extremist preaching, which includes denigrating other faiths and saying that suicide bombings are legitimate.

Allegations of Islamophobia against Singapore by Somad and his supporters are unfounded, said SM Teo.

"Singapore takes a zero tolerance approach on hate speech regardless of whether it is a Christian pastor or a Muslim ustaz. Such extremist rhetoric has real world consequences."

As an example, he shared how a 17-year-old detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 2020 had watched Somad's lectures and begun to believe that suicide bombers are martyrs.

As the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and borders between countries are reopened, international travel will surge, which could cause a renewed terrorism threat as foreign fighters either return home or travel to conflict zones, said SM Teo.

International developments such as the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the situation in Ukraine, and Israeli-Palestinian clashes will affect the global security landscape, which SM Teo said remains uncertain.

He added that closer to home in South-east Asia, the terror cell Jemaah Islamiah and others affiliated to the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are rebuilding their capabilities, and are showing interest in mounting attacks.

"Within Singapore, self-radicalisation continues to pose a domestic terrorism threat," he said.

Addressing extremism and preventing such cases of radicalisation make the RRG's role crucial, and the senior minister said he was heartened by how the group has continued its work in the past two years in spite of the pandemic.

The RRG brings together Islamic scholars and teachers who voluntarily assist in the religious counselling of radicalised individuals, including terror detainees, and inoculate the wider community against extremist views.

The group is currently organising a video competition to reinforce the role young people play in the fight against extremism and terrorism, which SM Teo called an important initiative.

"I have spoken to my counterparts in various countries. They often tell me that they envy us. What we have today is the result of the sacrifices of our RRG members," he said.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim also held up the work of the RRG and said the group makes significant contributions to society.

"The RRG continues to play an important role not only in your contributions towards religious counseling, but also in your tenacity and perseverance in building a cohesive and resilient Singapore through various outreach efforts," he said in a speech during Wednesday's event.

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