Youths who pursue political causes should know how to spot 'charlatans': Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. (SCREENGRAB: Parliament)

SINGAPORE — Knowing how to identify “charlatans” is one of several important ways that would help young people to act responsibly and legally when pursuing political and social causes, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament.

Knowledge of their own rights, world affairs, Singapore’s recent history, and the balance between state power and individual autonomy in different societies are important too, added Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.

He was replying on Monday (7 October) to a question by Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Walter Theseira, who had asked the minister about what could be done to assure of the right of youths to take part in causes responsibly and legally.

Agreeing with Prof Theseira on the importance for students to know their rights and responsibilities, Shanmugam said they should also be able to “identify charlatans, those who promise the world and deliver nothing”.

“So we do our best, but if the NMP has ideas on how we can bring these points across better, to younger people, we will be very happy to hear from him,” he added.

Prof Theseira also asked if the Ministry of Home Affairs regulates or monitors the political activities of student groups in local universities.

In response, Shanmugam said that the ministry’s agencies focus on individuals who engage in activities that endanger national security, like terrorist acts.

He cited an example of a 17-year-old Singaporean who was arrested in May 2015 under the Internal Security Act after being self-radicalised and had plans to engage in armed violence and join ISIS. In another example, he cited the recent detention of three domestic helpers from Indonesia due to terrorist-related activities.

“But it does not mean that the agencies look at all 17-year-olds,” he added. “But that does not mean that our security agencies monitor all domestic helpers – there are close to 260,000 of them.”

“The agencies have their own ways of identifying security threats and they will take appropriate action, in context,” Shanmugam added.

Scrapped Yale-NUS programme on dissent

Fellow NMP Anthea Ong had asked the minister on the MHA’s position on online views that having a course on dissent is an “unpatriotic act” and the hate speech directed at Yale-NUS students.

Shanmugam said that if the students believe that a criminal offence has been committed, “they can file a police report – I am sure they are aware of that”.

He asked Ong, “If the member is of the view that more regulation of the online space is necessary, going beyond the current laws, and that such speech should be regulated, you can let us know – precisely what you have in mind, to be regulated?”

He added, “I assume you are not suggesting that we prevent people from expressing their views on whether some actions are patriotic or unpatriotic?”

The exchange comes in wake of a recently scrapped Yale-NUS College (YNC) programme called “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore”, initially scheduled to run from 29 September to 5 October, which meant to introduce students to “various modes of dissent and resistance in Singapore”.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who had earlier on Monday answered questions from various MPs on the subject, described the programme as one filled with “motives and objectives” other than learning and education.

“Academic freedom cannot be carte blanche for anyone to misuse an academic institution for political advocacy,” he said.

“(Academic institutions) should not work with speakers and instructors who have been convicted of public order-related offences, or who are working with political advocacy group funded by foreigners or who show openly disloyalty to Singapore.”

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