Tough laws essential to curb hate speech, says Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that Singapore makes no apologies for its approach in tackling hate speech.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that Singapore makes no apologies for its approach in tackling hate speech.PHOTO: ST FILE

NZ attacks a reminder that online platforms not doing enough, he says

The Christchurch terror attacks are a reminder that tough laws are needed to curb the spread of hate speech, which is not being tackled adequately by online technology companies and platforms, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

He also said he will be tabling a motion in Parliament to discuss hate speech and race and religious relations some time next month.

"We will have a debate in Parliament on structuring race relations and our approach to it... (We will) have views expressed, set out the Government's position comprehensively and contextualise it," he said.

"I think this will allow us as a society to see where the lines ought to be drawn, and whether they need to be redrawn."

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 15th Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) retreat at the Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa, where he addressed Muslim community leaders.

During his speech, Mr Shanmugam referred to the shooting last Friday at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead and 50 others injured, noting that the gunman had posted a 73-page manifesto online before carrying out the attacks.

"(It had) far-right, hate speech, anti-Muslim beliefs, and he live-streamed the attack, and he aimed for maximum deaths and damage."

 
 

This is one of the reasons why Singapore has tough laws and a tough approach against hate speech.

He added: "Online tech companies and platforms don't do enough to take down anti-Muslim messages. In Singapore, we take a very no-nonsense approach even though we get criticised for it."

Even as the attacks in Christchurch received worldwide condemnation, the "ugly head of far-right Islamophobia" was seen in the form of anti-Islam comments made by Queensland Senator Fraser Anning in Australia soon after the incident, said Mr Shanmugam.

"If it had been in Singapore, he would have been arrested. We don't allow this," said the minister, adding that thankfully, many people also criticised the far-right independent Australian politician's comments.

Mr Shanmugam added that Singapore makes no apologies for its approach in tackling hate speech.

"(We) will continue to take a tough and strict approach, but a fair approach, across all communities," he said, adding that the Government wants to protect the religious rights of its people.

However, tough laws alone do not create the environment we have in Singapore, said Mr Shanmugam. It involves collaboration from the communities and the Government.

During his speech, he also thanked the RRG for its support and help within the Muslim community and across other communities.

 
 

Set up in 2003, the RRG trains religious teachers to counsel those who have been influenced or misguided by radical teachings. It also conducts workshops on countering extremist ideology in schools and mosques.

While Singapore has come a long way in building its racial and religious harmony, "we are not done yet", said Mr Shanmugam. The strong inter-community relations and communal harmony did not happen by accident, he said, adding: "If you leave people on their own, inevitably they will emphasise... divisions and not the commonalities.

"So, we have been (actively working on), and we have to continue to actively work on, bringing people together. Without that, it will not work. Who is the we? It is all of you. Every community, every group, every religious leader and, of course, the Government. All working together to achieve this."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2019, with the headline 'Tough laws essential to curb hate speech, says Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe