I feel like I haven’t done very much this week, but it’s just flown by!
Earlier this week I summed up the latest episode of the Lee family feud — you can catch up here.
Race, religion, and national security
Since the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in France and terrorist attacks in Europe, Singapore has adopted a “heightened security posture”, the Ministry of Home Affairs said this past week. As part of this, the police and the Internal Security Department have investigated 37 people for alleged incitement of racial/religious violence, such as supporting the beheading, inciting violence against France, or making derogatory comments about Muslims. Most of these people had made such comments on social media. 16 of the foreigners investigated have been deported.
K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, wrote a piece for The Straits Times about how free speech stops at giving offence to religion. I’m not holding my breath, but I hope we can actually have more conversation about where to draw the line — should it really stop at giving offence, or should there be a higher threshold? International standards, for instance, would put this threshold at incitement to violence, rather than just giving offence. (This seems like a good time, too, to plug Cherian George’s book, Hate Spin.)
One 26-year-old Bangladeshi national has been detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. The authorities say that he had self-radicalised via the Internet by consuming ISIS propaganda, although he later switched his allegiance to another militant group, and donated funds that he understood would go to support this group. He also bought knives, which he claimed he wanted to use against Hindus in Bangladesh. However, the authorities also said that, beyond his social media activity, “there is no information that Faysal had tried to influence his colleagues, dormitory mates or anyone else in Singapore with his radical views; it appears that none of them were aware of Faysal’s radicalisation.”
All in all, over the past five years, 29 individuals have been “dealt with” under the Internal Security Act. The government says that they’d been radicalised, mostly through extremist materials online. As always with detention without trial, we should keep in mind that we only ever have the authorities’ claims to go on, unless they do eventually charge the individual in court and give him a fair trial.
Getting COVID-19 under control
COVID-19 is coming under control in Singapore; we’ve seen long stretches with no community transmission this month. Experts warn that there might still be undetected cases lurking, though, so people are still advised to be careful. Also important: don’t do dumb things like this family meal at Seoul Garden with 12 people, including a two-year-old who was meant to be on a five-day medical leave (which means she was supposed to stay home!)
It’s a relief that the numbers seem to be under control, but we shouldn’t forget that thousands of migrant workers are still subjected to tough restrictions on their movement — many are still only able to shuttle between their worksites and their dorms. It’s a continuing form of imprisonment that we should be questioning.
A third deputy Attorney-General
Lucien Wong is getting a third deputy Attorney-General, after Hri Kumar and Lionel Yee. Tai Wei Shyong, whose previous posts include deputy public prosecutor and director of the Internal Security Department, will start a three-year term in January 2021.
This newsletter, and other independent work that I do, is supported by Milo Peng Funders! Please join their ranks, if you can:
We, The Citizens Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.