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MHA proposes racial harmony bill allowing restraining orders against threatening content

MHA proposes racial harmony bill allowing restraining orders against threatening content

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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has proposed a new racial harmony bill that will allow the government to issue restraining orders against content that threatens racial harmony. 

This is just one of the three proposed measures proposed as part of the new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill that will be revealed later in 2024.

"Singapore’s racial and religious harmony is of paramount importance, and arguably an existential issue for our society. We have invested significant effort since independence – through legislation, policies, institutions and other measures – to preserve this harmony," said MHA in a statement.

Don't miss: SG govt to introduce new laws to prevent harmful online content

The racial harmony bill - first enacted in 1990 and amended in 2019 - is one of the measures to preserve religious harmony. Its objectives serve as "impetus" for the proposed bill, added MHA.

The new racial harmony bill will introduce restraining orders against the production or distribution of content that prejudices the maintenance of racial harmony in Singapore. The restraining order can restrain a person or entity from being involved in the communication or distribution of specified information or material and addressing a specified audience on a specified subject.

It also restrains a person or entity from printing, editing, assisting or contributing to a specified publication, and holding office in an editorial board or committee of a specified publication. 

In tandem, the bill will "port over" Penal Code offences which deal with threats to racial harmony.  This concerns acts which wound the racial feelings of any person and acts which promote enmity, hatred or ill will between racial groups, covered in Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code respectively. 

To further deter race-related violence, the bill will also make it an offence to "urge violence against other groups or their members, on the grounds of race". 

MHA added that it will also be mindful of striking a balance between keeping public discourse free from hateful or offensive speech, and allowing space for legitimate discourse, private communications, and remarks made in good faith.

Lastly, the bill will introduce safeguards against foreign influence through race-based organisations. Designated entities that promote the interests of a racial group or sub-group will be required to disclose foreign donations and foreign affiliations.

They must also disclose their leadership composition and comply with leadership requirements. 

"Racial incidents not only impact the victim, but also damage the ties between different races. Criminal prosecution alone does not provide for the reparation of community ties," said MHA in a statement. 

"Such an approach helps the aggrieved community take a more reconciliatory view towards an offender and strengthens understanding between races. The offender is given an opportunity to learn from his mistakes while carrying out the reparative measures." 

The MHA is currently inviting members of the public to submit their feedback and comments by 14 May 2024. 

Most recently, local rapper Subhas Nair was jailed 6 weeks in September 2023 for attempting to promote ill will between races and religions, according to media reports

Nair was convicted of four such charges over statements he made between July 2019 and March 2021. He had first posted a YouTube video of him and his sister Preeti Nair performing a song, which contained the lyrics "Chinese people always out here f***ing it up".

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

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