02/15/2024, 18.42
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Singapore cracks down on pro-Gaza protests amid fears of internal tensions

by Angeline Tan

Police are looking into two events: a protest march to Istana with anti-war letters and an online video. Government minister says people are free to protest but without violating the law or creating rifts in society. Many fear incidents.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – Singapore police have recently opened an investigation into two events that occurred on 2 February that are associated with the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza for possible offences causing “public unrest”. To avoid this, they urge Singaporeans to conduct discussions on the topic respectfully and responsibly.

Police said that they are aware of calls to rally against the war by the Jewish state against the terrorist group Hamas, over its impact on the civilian population. The latter would include a sit-in and putting up of stickers at the upcoming Singapore Airshow, scheduled for 20-25 February. 

A group of about 70 people assembled along Orchard Road at around 2 pm on 2 February and marched to Istana, the official residence of Singapore’s president, carrying umbrellas with images of watermelons in support of the Palestinian cause (picture from Facebook).

In a press release on Tuesday, police said that protesters are under scrutiny for conducting an unauthorised public assembly. Istana is a an especially security-sensitive sector and is regarded as a Prohibited Area.

Protesters’ “actions advocate the political causes of other countries and have the potential to stir up tensions and lead to public disorder,” reads the police statement, which also noted that concerned members of the public have made reports to the police.

Reports on social media say that participants in the "Letters for Palestine" march went from Plaza Singapura to Istana to present letters to Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The second case that police are probing involves an online video of a private event "where a subject was seen live streaming publicly and chanting 'from the river to the sea’.” Others were seen chanting “Palestine will be free” in response.

The phrase "from the river to the sea" is linked to calls for the "destruction of Israel," the police statement said, adding that the use of such slogans may give rise to racial tensions in Singapore and may constitute a criminal offence under Section 298A of the Penal Code.

As tensions escalate due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, law enforcement agencies are reportedly assessing possible risks related to public safety and security in public gatherings and marches linked to the conflict.

The police probe comes amid growing global tensions generated by the protracted war between Israel and Hamas, with inevitable repercussions for the city-state as well.

The Singapore Airshow provides an opportunity to showcase the performances of international aerospace and defence companies, including those from Israel.

For this reason, the police warn the public that organising or participating in a public assembly or procession without a permit is illegal. Putting up posters, placards, or other documents, including stickers, on any property without a permit is also a crime.

The police's advisory "is not meant to prevent anyone from expressing their concerns, or even their strong views on this issue,” explained Singapore's Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

"But there are ways of doing so that do not break our laws or cause a deep rift in our society," she added. “Remember, we cannot hope to end conflicts by starting more conflicts of our own”.

Singapore has donated more than US$ 6 million to fund-raising drives by the Singapore Red Cross and the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation and will continue to back such humanitarian efforts through official channels.

Meanwhile, law enforcement report security and public safety problems at events related to assemblies and public protests against the war in Gaza, citing similar incidents in countries like the United States and China.

"The current peace and harmony we have between the different races and religions in Singapore cannot be taken for granted. We must not let events happening externally affect the internal situation within Singapore," said the Singapore police.

“Given the sensitivity of the topic and the volatility of the situation in Gaza, there is a real risk that such assemblies and processions could give rise to public disorder and tensions between the different communities in Singapore,” the police added.

Ultimately, “If we do not conduct ourselves in a responsible manner over this conflict, it can very easily destroy the precious racial and religious harmony we have in Singapore."

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