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Singapore students from higher learning institutes submit letters against restrictive racial harmony bill

Today at 2:30 pm, 40 students from Singaporean universities delivered letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs, opposing the amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which they fear could stifle free speech and open discourse on race-related issues.



At 2:30 pm today, a diverse group of 40 students and alumni from various higher learning institutions in Singapore, including Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), polytechnics, and Institutes of Technical Education, delivered 40 letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Their collective action opposed the proposed amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act under the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill, which they argue could potentially undermine free speech and open discourse on race-related issues in the country.

Clad in shirts bearing the slogan “There Are No Universities Left in Gaza,” the participants assembled peacefully and walked toward the MHA building to submit their letters.

Their primary concern revolves around the Bill’s provision allowing the Minister for Home Affairs extensive authority to clamp down on acts deemed to “threaten the racial harmony” of Singapore without rigorous scrutiny.

“These amendments might suppress the necessary dialogue needed to truly address and eliminate racism,” the group of students expressed in a statement.

They highlighted the potential misuse of similar existing laws, such as sections 298 and 298a of the Penal Code, which the new Bill will absorb and which have previously been used to penalize individuals discussing and analyzing racism.

The students and alumni are particularly alarmed by the vague definitions within the Bill, such as what constitutes “remarks made in good faith,” which they fear could be exploited to stifle legitimate discourse. Moreover, the Bill introduces enhanced penalties and allows the Minister to issue Restraining Orders (ROs) on the dissemination of content without established criminal conduct, which cannot be appealed in court.

“By enhancing penalties and broadening the powers to restrict expressions under the guise of maintaining harmony, this Bill could severely restrict educational campaigns and peaceful actions that raise awareness on critical social issues,” stated the statement.

The students outlined a series of actions that illustrate the breadth of their engagement on the topic of Palestine and the broader implications of international conflicts.

At NTU, the event called “Ponteng for Palestine” was a teach-in designed as a class boycott where students voluntarily skipped their regular curriculum to educate themselves and others about the Palestinian situation and the concept of settler-colonialism as it applies to Israel.

Similarly, at NUS, the “Picnics for Palestine” were informal gatherings where students engaged with Palestinian poetry and expressed solidarity through writing and discussion, fostering a grassroots educational atmosphere.

The activism extended to graduation ceremonies, notably at Yale-NUS College, where 43 students used the occasion to make a political statement by wearing wristbands and kuffiyahs, and by incorporating speeches that voiced support for Palestinian rights during the convocation.

The students expressed concerns that the new bill’s broad powers could endanger peaceful educational protests.

Key worries include enhanced penalties for vaguely defined “urging of violence” and the power for the Minister of Home Affairs to issue Restraining Orders (ROs) on content deemed disruptive to racial harmony. They noted that these ROs require no criminal conduct proof, cannot be appealed in court, and are reviewed only by a council chosen by the MHA, potentially restricting free expression.

“The ROs cannot be appealed against in a court of law, and are only subjected to review by a  Presidential Council composed of members selected by MHA itself. This is a clear conflict of interest and provides the Minister unilateral power in using this Bill to restrict freedom of expression.”

The Bill, which is currently under public consultation by MHA, includes several new provisions aimed at safeguarding Singapore’s racial harmony more effectively.

MHA initiated a public consultation for the Bill on 16 April 2024. Originally set to conclude on 15 May 2024, the consultation period was extended to 11 June 2024 to allow for broader community feedback.

Here’s a closer look at what the proposed Bill seeks to achieve and how it relates to the concerns voiced by the students:

1. Porting Over and Reviewing Race-Related Offences: The MHA plans to incorporate offences from the Penal Code—specifically sections 298 and 298A—into the new Bill. Section 298 pertains to acts that wound racial feelings, while section 298A addresses acts promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between different racial groups. The intent is to focus these laws specifically within the context of racial harmony, streamlining their application and enforcement.

2. Introducing a Specific Offence for Urging Violence: A new offence is proposed for acts that explicitly urge violence against other groups based on race. This includes extreme cases where individuals may advocate for racial purity and violence against even members of their own race. This addition aims to address the more severe manifestations of racial hatred with appropriately stringent penalties.

3. Restraining Orders Against Content Prejudicial to Racial Harmony: The Bill would enable the Minister for Home Affairs to issue ROs against any individual or entity involved in creating or distributing content deemed harmful to racial harmony. These ROs can be applied broadly, from prohibiting certain communications to barring individuals from holding positions in publications or speaking on sensitive topics. This provision is designed for rapid response to potential threats without the need to establish criminal conduct first.

4. Safeguards Against Foreign Influence Through Race-Based Organisations: Similar to existing laws concerning religious groups, the Bill proposes that race-based organizations disclose foreign donations and leadership compositions. This is to prevent foreign entities from exerting undue influence that could disrupt Singapore’s racial harmony.

Members of the public are invited to submit their feedback and comments by 11 June 2024 via email at [email protected] or by mail to the address below.

Ministry of Home Affairs
New Phoenix Park
28 Irrawaddy Road
Singapore 329560
Re: Public Consultation on the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill

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This dictatorial regime is casting their “net of subjugation” arbitrarily, … in the name of race relations, harmony or better still, like CommChina’s, … national security !!!

Where next, … … your local kopitiams, pasar malams and hawker centres perhaps !!!

Finally but crucially in this very instance, … let’s not even waste our time with this regime’s interpretation of conflicts of interest !!! !!!

Well, At least theyre trying…theyre the people who will shape our country , in the future..
The ministry will just hold a dialogue session with them to show the gov is listening…..but nothing afterwards.
Maybe these kids are naive, but at least they trying to make a change…

As I have said previously, Shanmugam thinks his work is passing legislation after legislation. It never ends. Conflict of Interest is a term not in the PAP dictionary. Last year we used it for Ridout but were totally ignored. It is a good experience for these young people to know about the Yishun MP. They will next find out that the PAP will continue with what they have set out to do even if the Public disagrees. Using your votes at the ballot box is the only way to bring about changes. We will be been made irrelevant to the… Read more »