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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Activist Sangeetha Thanapal issued stern warning for Facebook post that promotes ill will between races

Activist Sangeetha Thanapal issued stern warning for Facebook post that promotes ill will between races

Activist Sangeetha Thanapal, who lives in Melbourne where she is a researcher, was investigated this month when she returned to Singapore on Jan 2.

SINGAPORE - Activist Sangeetha Thanapal, known here for coining the term "Chinese privilege", has been given a stern warning by the police over a Facebook post that promotes feelings of ill will and hostility between races .

The 36-year-old Singaporean, who lives in Melbourne where she is a researcher, was investigated this month when she returned to Singapore on Jan 2, the police confirmed to The Straits Times on Tuesday (Jan 29).

Ms Sangeetha, who has since returned to Melbourne, was investigated for her remarks insinuating that Chinese in Singapore acted in a racist manner towards those of other races.

Her post was prompted by the Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians.

The movie, touted as a big win for representation of Asian people on screen, was also criticised for a lack of representation of minorities in Singapore, where much of the action is set.

In a Facebook post last April, Ms Sangeetha called Singapore a "terribly racist country" before going on to make a series of claims.

For instance, she wrote that it is constantly reinforced that "only Chinese people" would be able to "save Singapore", while other races are "lazy and violent".

"Her remarks also alleged that the Singapore Government looks down on minority races and have embarked on deliberate policies to favour one race over the others," the police said in their reply.

In the same post, Ms Sangeetha claimed she had to "run away" to Australia after being threatened with sedition for speaking out on race matters.

In consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers, police issued her a stern warning on Jan 16, "for an offence of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race" under Section 298A of the Penal Code.

Ms Sangeetha has written extensively about what she calls "Chinese privilege" in Singapore.

Akin to "white privilege" in Western countries, it refers to the claim that the majority race is unable to see things from the viewpoints of the minorities.

Attempts to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful.

However, in a Facebook post three days after being warned, Ms Sangeetha wrote that she had "a very traumatising experience" on her return to Singapore.

She said it prompted her to briefly shut down her Facebook page, "as anything we say on the internet is often used against activists".

"Right now, I am recuperating and focusing on other things in my life, but I won't be talking about what happened to me back in Singapore until and unless I know that I can't be threatened by the long arm of the Singapore state again."

In 2015, Ms Sangeetha found herself in a predicament after misrepresenting comments that current Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had made at a Singapore Press Club talk, where he spoke of a growing polarisation in Malaysia, with mainstream schools "becoming more and more Malay and Islamic".

His point was that trends in their education system made integration among the different races a challenge, with Chinese children attending Chinese-medium schools, and Malays going to mainstream schools.

But in a Facebook post, Ms Sangeetha suggested Mr Shanmugam had made the comments because he considered Malay-Muslims a threat.

Calling Ms Sangeetha's post "inaccurate and seditious", Mr Shanmugam said he had initially intended to make a police report.

But he later decided not to do so after meeting Ms Sangeetha, who took down the post and apologised for her comments.

His decision to drop the matter was not prompted by her apology, Mr Shanmugam later told reporters, but because she did not have the intention to cause ill will between races.

A police spokesman said they take a stern view of actions that can threaten social harmony here.

"Such irresponsible comments can promote feelings of ill will or hostility between different races, and are unacceptable in Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society," he added.

Notably, this is the first case I'm aware of of anti-Chinese racism being investigated in Singapore.
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