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Singapore rejected 5 bids to use Speakers' Corner for events on Israel-Hamas conflict

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government has rejected five applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for events related to the Israel-Hamas war in October, said Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim in parliament on Monday (Nov 6).

Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking more than 230 hostages. Tel Aviv has responded with air bombing and ground offensives in the Gaza Strip governed by Hamas, with the death toll reaching nearly 10,000 people there.

Singapore’s police and National Parks Board have said they will turn down applications for events and public assemblies related to the Israel-Hamas war. Activist Gilbert Goh is being investigated for holding up a sign on the conflict outside Speakers’ Corner.

During a debate in parliament on a motion about the conflict, Nominated MP Dr Syed Harun Alhabsyi said he was “slightly disappointed” by the government’s decision to reject applications, given the lessons the topic could offer for national education and the fact that it is already widely covered online and in the news.

“I can appreciate the initial concerns over public order, the sensitivity of the topic, as well as the volatility of the situation overseas, but I do hope that the government will reconsider this position in good time,” he said.

“We should continue to allow for peaceful discussion of such issues so that people with polarising views can discuss such matters respectfully and sensitively. As a whole, society then benefits and matures from such depth and nuance of discourse over time.”

The Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park is the only place in Singapore where Singaporeans can hold outdoor assemblies and processions without a police permit. Those who want to use the space must apply to NParks.

Over the past three years, NParks has received more than 400 applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for events. Seven applications were rejected, said Assoc Prof Faishal.

Of the seven rejections, five were for events related to the Israel-Hamas conflict in October. The two remaining rejections were for unrelated events in December 2022 and August.

“There are real public safety and security concerns. There have been numerous incidents of violence related to the conflict in other countries,” Assoc Prof Faishal told parliament.

“Tensions are high, and public demonstrations may inevitably advocate, or show more sympathy, for one side of the conflict or the other. They can spark off incidents on the ground.

“They also have the potential to divide us as Singaporeans. Once we allow one event, we will have to allow others.”

He added that the government’s position is consistent with that on previous requests for events held outside the Speakers’ Corner, such as those related to the Russia-Ukraine war, where the police also assessed that there was a safety and security risk.

“We would have adopted the same approach if the event was held at Speakers’ Corner,” he said.

Assoc Prof Faishal pointed to “other practical and impactful avenues” to show support, such as contributing to authorised fundraisers for humanitarian relief efforts.

The government on Monday warned people not to display foreign national emblems related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and to be vigilant about donating to authorised fundraising efforts.

He also noted that Hamas has issued statements “calling on all Muslims to fight”, and that supporters of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, including in Southeast Asia, have celebrated Hamas’ attacks.

“They have called on followers to join in a wider jihad. Singaporeans are not immune to such sentiments,” he said.

Security agencies in Singapore are watching the situation closely and are taking additional measures, such as enhanced security patrols at certain events and places, he said.

But he stressed that “collective vigilance” is Singapore’s strongest defence against security threats. He urged people to report any suspicious behaviour or individuals whom they suspect could have been radicalised.

Related:

Increase in anti-Singapore rhetoric and online extremist threats since start of Israel-Hamas war: Lawrence Wong

Israel-Hamas conflict a 'reminder' for Singapore that it has national interests at stake: Vivian Balakrishnan

ANTI-SEMITIC AND ANTI-MUSLIM CONDUCT

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that the police received eight reports of offensive remarks or actions targeted at Jewish or Muslim people in Singapore in October.

This was equal to the total number of reports on anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim conduct that police received from January to September.

Assoc Prof Faishal said that Singapore takes firm action against threats to racial and religious harmony, with powers under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, Penal Code and Broadcasting Act.

“The laws are only one part of our holistic approach to maintaining racial and religious harmony in our society,” he said, pointing to community efforts such as engagement of religious and community leaders.

He noted that only a minority of people in Singapore engage in offensive conduct.

“Even where views on the conflict have differed, most Singaporeans have been measured and mature in our response,” he said.

“We may feel deep sympathy for the civilians caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas.

“However, we should be mindful that just as there are those among us who feel more deeply for the Israelis killed or abducted by Hamas, there are also many Singaporeans who are profoundly saddened by the sufferings of the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Dr Maliki Osman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs, also touched on community efforts to maintain harmony in his speech to parliament.

These include platforms for community leaders to engage each other, respectful inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogues at the people-to-people level, and guidance by Muslim religious leaders and teachers.

Special prayers for peace and the cessation of violence were conducted at more than 50 mosques and drew over 50,000 congregants, he noted.

Dr Maliki said the Muslim community “responded with maturity, and we understand the value of unity amidst this trying period for all of us”.

“We must continue to protect ourselves from being influenced by the barrage of information, misinformation and disinformation that enters our social media platforms as feeds,” he said.

“We have heard calls to boycott (food and beverage) establishments. We should not conflate the actions of governments with the operations of business and economics.”

Related:

Maliki Osman on Israel-Hamas conflict

IN FOCUS: How fake news on Israel-Hamas stokes outrage, hatred and ‘potential for violence’ on Southeast Asian TikTok
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