SINGAPORE — The 16-year-old Singaporean male who was inspired by far-right extremist ideology to plot attacks on two mosques will not be tried in open court as this would run the risk of deepening religious divides, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam on Thursday (28 January).
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, which was one of the two targetted places of worship, Shanmugam said the suspect will get a closed-door hearing within the rubric of the Internal Security Act, under which he is being detained.
The teen will have access to a lawyer and his parents will also be involved in court proceedings, the minister added.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed that the suspect had been detained by the Internal Security Department in December after making detailed plans to stage a machete attack on Muslims at the two mosques.
The secondary school student was self-radicalised and motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence, said the ministry. He was also inspired by Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist who killed 51 people in the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, MHA added.
Shanmugam told reporters on Thursday, “It's not suitable for open trial for a number of reasons. First, if you went through the criminal process and the question is: what has he actually done? And then it will be argued that: well, he hasn't done anything.”
While the approach in many countries has been to wait for suspects to do something, it often becomes “too late”, said Shanmugam. Singaporeans support the government’s approach to intervening early in such cases, he added.
Second, if the teen goes on the witness stand and talks about his hatred for Muslims, this would deepen fault lines, Shanmugam said.
“Do you think that is positive for interracial confidence? He will get a reaction from the Muslim community. You will get other people – from the Christian community – who listen to this and maybe some may...think of this boy as being victimised. You run the risk of Christian-Muslim divide, or deepening the divide,” said the minister.
Defending the use of the Internal Security Act to detain suspects without trial in such cases, Shanmugam added, “I think if you look at the record over the last 50-plus years...you can see where we are today, in terms of racial harmony, in terms of religious harmony, when you compare it against the record of any other country.”
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