Parliament has passed changes to the law on religious harmony to allow the authorities to move more swiftly against those who threaten the good relations among people of different religions here.
Key changes include higher maximum punishments and immediate restraining orders to prevent offensive statements from spreading on social media, instead of the current 14-day notice period. The Act also covers offences committed overseas.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said that while the level of religious harmony in Singapore remains high, updates to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) are timely amid rising religiosity and increasing violence fuelled by hate speech globally.
Moving the changes to the Act on 7 October 2019, he noted that since the Act was passed in 1990, the Internet and social media have been used to mobilise hatred and mob attacks. There has also been increased foreign interference in the affairs of other countries, he said.
“We have to put in some circuit breakers to prevent events relating to religion from affecting us negatively. We cannot completely shut them out. We want to absorb those religious influences. But at the same time, we do not want them to affect us negatively.”
Other changes to the Act include safeguards against foreign influence like disclosure requirements for single foreign donations of $10,000 or more. The president, secretary and treasurer of a religious organisation must also be Singaporeans or permanent residents.
Another change is the introduction of a Community Remedial Initiative which allows an offender to mend ties with the aggrieved community through an apology or by taking part in activities that promote harmony.
Acknowledging that Singapore had previous incidents of religious disharmony, Mr Shanmugam said they were handled with “wisdom and common sense”.
“We draw lines in the sand. We reinforce positive norms, and they make our society stronger. It is not just the MRHA that has helped to keep religious harmony in Singapore,” he added.