Written Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Written Reply to Parliamentary Question on the Number of Racially Charged Incidents Reported to the Police over the Past Five Years, by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 05 July 2021


Mr Seah Kian Peng:
To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the number of racially charged incidents reported to the Police over the past five years; and (b) what is the Government’s assessment of Singaporeans’ readiness to navigate an increasingly polarised society.



1.   Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code cover acts that deliberately wound the racial and religious feelings of any person, that promote enmity between different racial and religious groups, or that are prejudicial to the maintenance of racial and religious harmony. The number of cases reported to the Police between 2016 and 2020 which were classified under Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code are appended at Table 1.

Table 1: Number of Cases Reported Under Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code from 2016 to 2020

Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code






Cases Reported






2.   The 2020 numbers show an increase. Timing wise, it is to be noted that a number of reports were filed during the period of the COVID outbreak, and also around the period of the General Elections.

3.   The MP asked about Singapore’s readiness to navigate polarisation, which is a growing concern all over the world.

4.   In a 2019 survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and OnePeople.sg (OPSG), about 97% of respondents said the level of racial and religious harmony in Singapore was either moderate, high, or very high. According to the 2019 Gallup World Poll, 95% of respondents in Singapore reported that Singapore was “a good place to live” for racial and ethnic minorities. The global average was about 70%. We were ranked first worldwide among 124 countries polled for this question.

5.   That said, as the Government has repeatedly said, we must accept that there remain fault lines along race and religion. And racism is also present. In the same 2019 IPS-OPSG survey, about a third of minorities perceived discrimination at work at least sometimes.

6.   The Government will have to continue to be an objective and neutral arbiter and take action against anyone, regardless of race, who commits acts that sow enmity and threaten our racial harmony. This gives confidence to all communities that they can trust the Government to safeguard their interests and to hold the ring on our race relations.

7.   However, not all allegations and accusations that surface in the public sphere cross the lines for prosecution or legal action. If we prosecute every allegation, no matter how trivial, this could stoke people into making police reports for any perceived racial slight, real or misunderstood, or deliberately exaggerated. Over time, this could instead escalate tensions between races and undermine our hard-earned social harmony.

8.   The law cannot be the solution in every situation. It is important that we come together as a society to guard against social fractures and commit to growing our common space. While we should speak out against clear acts of racism, we should be judicious in how we raise issues, in ways that bridge differences and not deepen fault lines. If we do this, and continue to take action against discrimination wherever we see it, building on our already strong foundations, I am confident that we will become an even more cohesive and harmonious society.