Published: 31 October 2022
1. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was amended in 2019 to strengthen the Government’s ability to safeguard against and respond more effectively to threats to our religious harmony. These amendments: (i) put in place safeguards against foreign influence; (ii) introduce the Community Remedial Initiative (CRI); (iii) update the Restraining Order (RO) regime; and (iv) consolidate offences relating to religious harmony under the MRHA. These amendments will come into effect on
1 November 2022.
Amendments to Safeguard Religious Harmony
Safeguards against Foreign Influence
2. First, the amendments will require religious groups to comply with the following requirements to safeguard against foreign influence that could affect our religious harmony:1
(a) Leadership Requirements: Key administrative leadership positions in religious groups are to be held only by Singapore Citizens (SC) or Permanent Residents (PR), and the majority of the governing body has to be SCs.2 This requirement does not apply to spiritual leaders who do not hold key administrative leadership positions. MHA will consider requests for exemption on a case-by-case basis.
(b) Foreign Donations: Religious groups must declare single monetary donations of S$10,000 or more from foreign sources for transparency on the foreign funding of religious groups. To ensure the requirement is not unduly onerous, certain types of donation will be exempted, such as those given in donation boxes, proceeds collected during religious ceremonies, non-cash donations (such as statues, ritual items, gold or jewellery), and zakat and fitrah. MHA will also exempt anonymous donations, and donations from foreigners who are working and living in Singapore, such as Work Pass and Long-term Visit Pass Holders.
(c) Foreign Affiliations: Religious groups must declare any affiliations to foreign persons or organisations which are in a position of control or power over the local religious group.
Community Remedial Initiative (CRI)
3. Second, we will introduce the CRI, to be offered by the Minister for Home Affairs, as an opportunity for a person to take remedial actions to soothe communal tensions and repair disrupted ties.
(a) Examples of such remedial actions include a public or private apology to the aggrieved parties, or participation in inter-religious events. This will provide an opportunity for the person to make amends to the affected community, and better understand the sensitivities of Singapore’s multi-religious society.
(b) The CRI will be voluntary in that the person offered a CRI may choose whether or not to undertake it. The CRI will be taken into consideration when assessing whether to prosecute the person for the offending act.
Updating the Restraining Order (RO) Regime
4. Third, the amendments will update the RO regime to enable us to swiftly and effectively respond to offensive online content that might cause widespread harm to religious harmony. The updated RO regime will also allow us to safeguard against foreign influences on our local religious groups that may undermine our religious harmony:
(a) Expanded scope of the RO to cover online communications: The offender can be required to remove offensive online content.
(b) Immediacy of the RO once issued: The earlier 14-day notice period for the issuance of ROs has been removed, and the RO will now take immediate effect once issued. There is no change to the process for confirming the ROs issued to religious organisations or persons – the religious organisation or person can make representations to the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony (PCRH), and the PCRH will then make a recommendation to the President to confirm, vary, or cancel the RO issued by the Minister for Home Affairs.
(c) Issuance of RO to religious groups to guard against foreign influence: Where there is foreign influence on religious groups which undermines our religious harmony and is a threat to Singapore’s peace, ROs can be issued to the religious groups to:
i. Prohibit them from receiving donations from specific or all foreign donors;
ii. Require the entire governing body to be SCs; and/or
iii. Require them to suspend or remove specific foreigners from holding office.
Consolidating Offences Related to Religious Harmony
5. Fourth, to strengthen and better focus our efforts in maintaining religious harmony, the amendments will consolidate existing Penal Code offences related to religious harmony under the MRHA:
(a) Offences will cover acts that:
i. Urge force or violence on the basis of religion, or against a religious group or its members;
ii. Incite feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility against a religious group; and
iii. Insult the religion or wound the religious feelings of another person.
(b) Differentiated threshold of offence: The offence in para 5(a)(i) will apply equally to everyone given its seriousness. For the offences in para 5(a)(ii) and 5(a)(iii), the offence is differentiated by whether the offender is a religious leader. Religious leaders are held to a higher standard of behaviour because of their influence. For persons who are not religious leaders, the act must risk disturbing public peace in Singapore before it is considered an offence. Where the offender is a religious leader, this element of risk of disturbing public peace would not be required to make out an offence.
(c) Extra-territorial powers: Offences would apply even if the conduct was done overseas, as long as the offence was targeted at a group or a person in Singapore and had an impact on Singapore. This is necessary as today, the internet and social media allow an individual based overseas to disrupt religious harmony in Singapore.
Other Related Amendments
6. Amendments to section 74 of the Penal Code were also made.
(a) Section 74 of the Penal Code allows the Courts to sentence an offender to up to one-and-a-half times the amount of punishment if the offence is racially or religiously aggravated, such as when the offender targets the victim based on the victim’s race or religion. Currently, this is only for a specified list of Penal Code offences.
(b) The amendments will expand the scope of section 74 to cover all offences in the Penal Code, except for offences that already incorporate a racial aggravating factor, such as sections 298 and 298A, and offences that are punishable with death or imprisonment for life.
(c) The amendments will also increase the enhancement of maximum punishments to two times, from the current one-and-a-half times.
7. Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2021 will also come into effect on 1 November 2022. This amends section 74 of the Penal Code, to expand the jurisdiction of a Magistrate’s Court and a District Court to also cover offences related to racially or religiously aggravated offences as specified in section 74(2) of the Penal Code. The rest of the amendments under the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2021 came into effect on 1 March 2022.
 Religious groups include registered societies, companies, partnerships or any other bodies of persons, that promote religion or religious worship, or deal with the religious affairs, practice, conduct, teaching, or propagation of any religious beliefs.
 If the religious group is a company, the key leadership requirements will be imposed on the persons in the entity that hold positions analogous to the President, Secretary, and Treasurer, such as the Chairman, Managing Director, and Company Secretary. If a religious group is a partnership, the requirements would be imposed on the partners of the partnership.