Published: 23 May 2022
Question: Some supporters of Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara (Somad) have reacted negatively to the decision to refuse him entry into Singapore. Somad himself has made some comments over the weekend. Can we have Minister’s views please?
1. Well, Somad has publicly promoted extremist, divisive teachings. Let me give some examples.
2. First, he has claimed that suicide bombing attacks are legitimate, and they are legitimate martyrdom (“istishhadi”) operations. This kind of support for violence, in our view, is very dangerous. Second, he has made highly derogatory, denigrating remarks about Christianity. For example, he has said that “infidel spirits” (“jinns”), he calls them, live on the crucifix. He even tells Muslims not to travel in Red Cross ambulances with crucifixes because it has a cross! You think this is acceptable in Singapore?
3. And how would Muslims feel, for example, if we allowed a Christian Preacher to come in to say things about the Quran or the Crescent in the Islamic context.
4. He advises Muslims to cover up any crucifixes displayed, so that they can avoid dying as an “infidel”. Because if the cross is not covered, and they die, then they will die as an “infidel”. And he has said that Muslims should not wish others “Merry Christmas”.
5. He has labelled non-Muslims as “kafirs” (“infidels”) – that’s most of you here, and most Singaporeans. He has preached that Muslims should not accept non-Muslims as their leaders, given that he says non-Muslims could conspire to oppress Muslims and, I quote, “slit their throats”. You consider that acceptable in Singapore?
6. These are just some examples. You know, if someone said this in Singapore, Internal Security Department (ISD) will be visiting him or her, and they will be behind bars. So the language, the rhetoric, as you can see, is very divisive – completely unacceptable in Singapore.
7. Racial, religious harmony, we consider fundamental to our society and most Singaporeans accept that. Somad: we have known of him for some time. You know, some of the people that ISD have investigated in Singapore for radicalisation, one of the things we picked up was that they were watching videos of Somad, and following his preachings.
8. One of them was a 17-year-old detained under the Internal Security Act, 2 years ago, in January 2020. He had watched Somad’s YouTube lectures on suicide bombing. And the young boy began to believe that if you fought for ISIS, and if you are a suicide bomber, you can die as martyr and receive rewards in heaven. So you can see, Somad’s preachings have real world consequences.
9. After Somad was denied entry into Singapore, he has taken to social media and given interviews. He is a popular preacher in Indonesia. He has a large following online: 6.5 million followers on Instagram, 2.7 million subscribers on YouTube, more than 700,000 followers on Facebook.
10. And, you know this is in my own perspective, the denial has given him publicity. So he is making maximum use of the publicity and he is now, in my view, engaging in more publicity stunts. He has said that he will try to enter Singapore again.
11. I think it is very important for Singaporeans to look at the reasons he has given to try to enter Singapore again. He says Singapore is a, I quote, “Melayu land” – Tanah Melayu, claims that people in Riau see Singapore as part of their land, because of Singapore’s history as part of the Temasek Malay Kingdom. So this is all part of Indonesia, a larger Tanah Melayu. And therefore, our sovereignty is irrelevant. We are not a separate country from his perspective.
12. And many of his supporters, mostly in Indonesia, have been riled up. They say Singapore is being, I quote, “disrespectful” towards Muslims and Islamic religious scholars. They have flooded social media pages of the Singapore government agencies, including that of Political Office Holders, including mine, with threats.
13. His supporters have called for cyberattacks on Singapore, on Government websites, social media accounts, boycott of Singapore products, and for Indonesians to stop visiting Singapore, all because we exercised our right to deny someone entering into Singapore.
14. One comment – Meta has disabled the account for violating its community standards, and has removed the comment, and I quote, says,
“Dear You, the leaders of Singapore, the Islamophobic Countries, we are waiting 2x24hours to apologise to the Indonesian People and Muslims”
“If you ignore our warning, then we will not hesitate to expel the ambassador of your country. We will send Islamic Defender Troops, Prosperous Justice Troops and Ulama Defender Troops to attack your country like 9/11 in New York 2001, and we will also expel Singaporeans who pretend to transit and live in Indonesia.”
15. So, a very direct threat linking to 9/11 against Singapore, Singaporeans both here and in Indonesia.
16. Other comments, I quote, “Singapore must be bombed again”, “We will destroy Singapore”, “Immediately destroy the unjust leaders on this earth including Singapore”, “Small country, yet so arrogant, with just one missile and you are finished.”
17. Two events management companies were targeted, and had their websites defaced.
18. Somad’s supporters have also held demonstrations at our embassy in Jakarta, consulate in Medan last week. They demanded that Singapore apologise for not letting Somad come in. That way, we will be apologising to a lot of people whom we denied entry. And a lot of countries in the world, in theory, then should be apologising.
19. Now, I will point out three aspects. First, the response of the Indonesian Government. You know, it has been very proper. If you noticed, it accepts that it is for Singapore to decide who can come into Singapore. That’s absolutely right, just like it is for Indonesia to decide who can go into Indonesia. It is for every country to decide who can go into that country – basic aspect of sovereignty. You can’t deny it was threatened. So the Indonesian government has been very very correct about this.
20. Second, the majority of Indonesians, our sense is that many of them recognise what Somad and his supporters are up to, or what they are really up to.
21. Third, specific to Somad and his supporters, as I have said earlier, they don’t respect Singapore as a separate country. They call this “Tanah Melayu”. They can tell us what to do. It tells you what they really think of Singapore. And if we don’t do what they tell us, then they threaten attacks.
22. I’m grateful that so many Indonesians – officials as well as commentators – have rejected these claims and defended Singapore. They know the accusations against Singapore are false.
23. And I have said this on many occasions – we take a, zero-tolerance approach and even-handed approach towards any form of hate speech and divisive ideologies. And it is not directed at any specific individual, or any specific religion, or any specific nationality. Our position applies equally to all.
24. Now, I will give you some examples. In 2017, two foreign Christian preachers were banned from preaching here in Singapore. They had made derogatory comments towards other religions. One described Allah as a “false god”, and he had described Buddhists as “Tohuw people”. The other referred to the, I quote, “evils of Islam” and had said that Islam was, I quote, “not a religion of peace”. Now, compared to what Somad had said, this is, I think, relatively mild, but we banned the both of them.
25. In 2018, we banned an American Christian preacher Lou Engle from preaching in Singapore. He had also made derogatory comments about Islam.
26. Few weeks ago, we banned the documentary “The Kashmir Files”, because of its provocative portrayal of Muslims. Many people in India criticised us for banning this film, but I make no apologies for our approach.
27. We will not allow persons like Somad any opportunity to build up a local following or engage in activities that threatens our security and communal harmony.
28. Just last week – local former Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer, Tan Boon Lee, we charged him with making racist remarks against an inter-racial couple. He had said that the man, who is of Indian ethnicity, was, I quote, “preying on a Chinese girl”, because he was out with the Chinese girl, and that he should “marry somebody Indian.” You know, a Singaporean who says this gets charged, and you think we are going to let someone like Somad to come in?
29. I find this very interesting, that we are not the only place that has denied Somad entry.
30. In December 2017, Somad was denied entry into Hong Kong. There are also reports that Somad was refused entry into Timor Leste, and several European countries – United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland. I wonder if Somad’s supporters also threatened China, because he was refused entry into Hong Kong, and threatened the other European countries? Or is it only that Singapore gets special mention and they are brave enough to threaten Singapore, but not the others?
31. Majority of Singaporeans, all races and religions, support the decision to refuse Somad entry into the country. They know that in Singapore, all religions are treated equally, on the same basis. Somad was not singled out for his religion, but his views which are unacceptable in the Singapore context.
32. We will continue with our zero-tolerance approach against any form of hate speech and ideologies, and protect all religions equally.
33. As I said, I make no apologies for this. In fact, in 2019, we passed the amended Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, which toughened up the provisions. And I’ve told the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) some time ago to work on a new piece of legislation – Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act, which will encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups, and signal the importance of racial harmony in Singapore.
34. You know, we are a unique country, with a strong emphasis on racial and religious harmony. But we don’t just have fine words, like some other countries. We back up the words, we back up our philosophy, with laws, and not just laws – we enforce those laws equally. I will introduce the new legislation in Parliament once it is ready.
35. Thank you.