Some spreading fake news about foreign worker dorms to incite violence: Shanmugam

Migrant workers queue to collect food on April 18, 2020. They are residents of Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Some people have been spreading fake news about the situation in foreign worker dormitories here, to incite fear, panic and even violence, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (April 29).

These individuals, who the authorities understand are both local and foreign, have been circulating such falsehoods in the form of videos, photos and even doctored images of news channels, he said.

He cited a video clip that was circulating on social media platforms recently, claiming that a Bangladeshi worker had committed suicide in Singapore because of a lack of money and work.

On Tuesday, the police said the video was not recorded in Singapore, and advised the public not to spread untruths. The police also told the public not to circulate the video, which can cause public alarm.

Speaking to reporters via video conferencing on Wednesday, Mr Shanmugam said such falsehoods are being circulated online to create fear and panic among the foreign worker community of about 300,000 people.

"It's to create panic. It's to create unhappiness, anger, and hopefully violence," he said.

"And also to make our own people, Singaporeans, believe that... these foreign workers are being treated badly. It's a very malicious type of video."

He also noted that there was another video that was circulating of a fight in a dormitory between two men of South Asian origin.

"It was taken in a dorm in Dubai some time ago, but people try and pass it off as taken in Singapore," said Mr Shanmugam. The city of Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates, which hosts a migrant labour force of 8.7 million.

In another case, an audio recording was being circulated on text messaging platforms.

"Somebody supposedly working in Sembawang Shipyard, telling the Malay-Muslim community you better go and buy up because the Chinese are going to go into a panic buying mode, and there's a shortage of everything that you can think of," he said.

Old photos of food packets that have been served to foreign workers have also started re-circulating online, suggesting that the quality of food is bad, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the food issue has been dealt with by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, and that food quality has "improved tremendously".

"But don't get me wrong, we are delivering several hundred thousand meals, three times a day for the workers. Majority of them tell us that the food quality is good. I'm not going to say to you therefore every single packet is good, or every single person is happy - not possible," Mr Shanmugam added.

But some people are deliberately re-circulating these old photos, or photos of food being thrown away in other countries, to encourage foreign workers here to "come out and complain, even when there is nothing to complain", he said.

"They don't realise that this is like playing with fire... You use falsehoods to foment trouble and make them angry, you don't know what might happen. There could be a serious law and order situation. This is serious, and we are looking at it seriously," said Mr Shanmugam.

The authorities will take action against people who deliberately spread such falsehoods. "When it's clearly criminal, we will charge them," he said.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked why a Singaporean man was charged in court on Monday, instead of being served a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), for allegedly posting false claims that supermarkets would only open two days a week as part of enhanced measures.

The man was charged with communicating a false message under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. If convicted, he can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $10,000.

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Mr Shanmugam said the facts of the case fit with the charge, which was brought on the man on the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers.

"You look at the previous cases where Pofma was used... in the vast majority, probably, there was no other criminal offence," he added.

"When it's a criminal offence, we will take action along those lines... but if it crosses the threshold for Pofma, we will use Pofma."

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