Singapore

Retired poly lecturer jailed for inciting violence online

Man incited violence through Facebook posts

A Singapore Polytechnic lecturer who created a Facebook account and posted words to incite violence was yesterday sentenced to three months' jail.

On Jan 14 last year, Tang Koon Huat, 63, wrote on the "Act for Singapore" (AFS) Facebook page that it was about time to form a Singaporean vigilante group to beat up "troublesome drunk" Caucasians at drinking joints and teach these "bumps" (sic) a lesson. He had used the moniker "Emett Haqq".

It was reported that day that Briton Alan Benjamin Maybury, 35, was given the maximum $5,000 fine for punching a 19-year-old polytechnic student in a road rage incident in 2014.

Tang, who was arrested on Aug 15 last year, had created the AFS page because of his negative perceptions about the influx of foreigners and the declining population of "native Singaporeans".

District Judge Mathew Joseph said an incitement to violence is offensive conduct that can harm public peace and good order, with the potential to cause serious injuries and property damage.

Tang had perversely exploited the anonymity of the Internet, his comments were clearly inciting violence, and he intended to stir up anger and hate against Caucasians here.

What he posted had a "chilling effect" with a "pernicious potential for greater and wider harm" than two similar cases, said the judge.

He said a "vent and rant" Internet moment can never be excused as a momentary lapse.

Deterrent sentences had to be imposed to deter such irresponsible and extreme online posts, said the judge. "It is therefore important to send a strong signal that the Internet is not an entirely unregulated space wherein calls to violence are treated as acceptable everyday communications," he added.

One would have expected Tang, with more than 30 years' teaching experience, to "know better", but he did not, the judge said.

"Either he was consumed with rage, or he was careless or he just did not care for the consequences of his actions. That was his sad downfall," he said.

This case, he added, serves to warn all, that the Internet and social media cannot be seen as a safe space online to carry out nefarious acts, including acts inciting violence.

"To play the role of a keyboard commando and carry out stealth attacks online, is to invite a swift, sure and strong counter-attack from the law and the courts," said the judge.

Tang's lawyers Alfred Dodwel and Abnushka Kaur Riar argued for a fine to be imposed.

"There must be space where people can express negative comments and if someone dislikes foreigners, it is his freedom and prerogative to do so and it cannot be expected of everyone to sing the same tune as everyone else," Ms Abnushka said.

The prosecution said the argument was completely misconceived, and wholly ignored the fact that the right to free speech is not absolute and must be balanced against the public interest.

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