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Overheard in Parliament: The best quotes from debate on Shanmugam’s ministerial statement on hate speech

SINGAPORE — A total of 16 Members of Parliament (MPs), including political office holders and Nominated MPs (NMPs), rose to debate Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s ministerial statement on hate speech in Parliament on Monday (April 1).

SINGAPORE — A total of 16 Members of Parliament (MPs), including political office holders and Nominated MPs (NMPs), rose to debate Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s ministerial statement on hate speech in Parliament on Monday (April 1).  

The debate, which lasted for four hours, saw MPs broadly giving their support to the prevailing laws governing hate speech. Many said that the current laws are key to maintaining racial and religious harmony in Singapore, particularly in light of the recent terrorist attack against Muslims in New Zealand.

They also raised several suggestions to strengthen the framework of laws.

MP for Bukit Batok Murali Pillai suggested that the Government reintroduce a judicial review on Government action for cases on hate speech to counter public concerns that it could abuse its power in future.

“Judicial review by the judiciary, which is an independent branch of our Government, will provide an important assurance and signaling effect to people having such concerns,” said Mr Murali.

NMP Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad proposed for youth wings be set up for all Inter-religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) to lead inter-faith dialogue among youth. IRCCs are local level inter-faith platforms in every constituency which are formed to promote racial and religious harmony.

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), expressed concern that while hate speech was easy to identify, offensive speech fell into a “grey zone” that made it difficult to draw the line in debates on issues such as abortion, which was rooted in religious principles.

MEMORABLE QUOTES:

  • “(The results from the Institute of Policy Studies survey) is similar to the feedback received from some younger members of the public who disagreed with the cancellation of the Watain concert. They raised questions about the government’s moral authority to police music, performances and artistic content.
    There are also other aspects of freedom that I think are important. The freedom to decide on one’s choice of religion and to practice it, the freedom to not be discriminated against because you are of a different race and religion.
    I am sure we agree that we want all the above freedoms. But what happens when those two sets of freedom collide?” — Ms Sun Xueling, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

  • “Interestingly, in the comment section of the online petition against Watain, more than a few interventions alluded to why the Government was suddenly allowing black metal bands — many of which regularly host Satanic themes into Singapore. From an online search it would appear that even local black metal bands have been part of our entertainment ecosystem for many years now and foreign black metal bands have been allowed into Singapore previously…To that end, how will the Info-communications Media Development Authority assess applications for black metal groups in future?” — Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh

  • “I have spoken today about only two trends in our digital landscape that allow hate speech to run riot, but there are many more. Emboldened by anonymity, fueled by interactivity and powered by mass connectivity, online hate speech can sweep through communities swiftly and insidiously if left unchecked.
    If I could ask the members of the house to reflect on your not-so-distant youth, recall how you felt when you turned 30. I reckon that you saw it as a major milestone, definitely a step into adulthood. The World Wide Web is 30 this year. Is it the confident, mature grownup striding boldly into adult life?
    If the Christchurch shooting is anything to go by, I think not.” — NMP Lim Sun Sun

  • “Where does one draw the line in debating on issues such as abortion, infidelity, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues which to some are rooted in religious principles and to others, secular disagreements based on how liberal or conservative one is? Where is the line between public discourse and platforms such as private Whatsapp group chats? Should Singaporeans be advised to err on the side of caution to avoid any potentially offensive speech stirring racial and religious harmony that may just go viral?” — Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua

  • “Tribal instincts cannot be eradicated. Nor should we want to. The irrationality of love is matched and often outmatched by the irrationality of hate. Even as we promote our best selves, we must constrain our worst. We do this softly through education, moral suasion and social norms. But we must also do this with unequivocal force through the smite of laws and their strict enforcement.” — Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC

  • “The public space is a common resource, a deep wellspring that sustains and refreshes the common spirit. If we had one overwhelmingly dominant religion and/or race then the question is one of tolerance of minorities and not of what the public space should be like. But as a multi-racial and religious society, each of our communities has different ideas about what that public space should be like.
    Our society must keep that common wellspring clear. If we each seek to dye the water according to our own particular persuasion we will soon find that there is nothing but darkness there. — NMP Walter Theseira

  • “Last week’s (Christchurch attack) has proved and evidenced to the entire world that terrorism has no colour, has no race and has no religion. We need to stamp out hate speech, we need to deal decisively with offensive speech, so that someone will not have to make this eulogy in Singapore. But if it happens, I hope that we will be able to respond in the same way that New Zealanders have done.” — Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam

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