It seems like we need to observe more Racial Harmony Days in Singapore.
It feels as if one dedicated day is not enough to teach some people about not being racist to one another.
Remember Tan Boon Lee, the ex-Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) senior lecturer that made the news for his racist remarks towards an interracial couple last June?
You may recall his spew of racial slurs to the innocent couple in a nine-minute rant in a random walkway along Anguilla Park and Orchard Road that went viral on social media. Representing himself as the spokesperson for his race, he called the woman a “disgrace” while accusing the man of “preying on Chinese girls”. How disgraceful to have someone like him speaking for us.
He is finally going to jail.
The District Court has sentenced him to 5 weeks of jail, alongside a hefty fine of $6,000, in a judgment read by Principle District Judge Yeo Khee Eng Victor on 29 December 2022.
In court proceedings, Tan Boon Lee was charged with four counts. Tan is represented by defence lawyers Eugene Thuraisingam and Hillary Low from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP against the Deputy Public Prosecutor.
He pleaded guilty to two charges last month in Court.
The first count is for wounding an individual’s racial feelings that account for the exchange between Tan and the interracial couple on 5 June 2021.
The second count was for the possession of 64 obscene films on his mobile phone when he was investigated by the police on 12 June 2021. They were apparently downloaded from the internet or sent by his friends for his “personal enjoyment”.
The other two charges were premised on the offence of committing an act that Tan had known was prejudicial to maintaining harmony between different religious groups and which was likely to disturb the public tranquillity previously at his workplace NP and online forum platform Quora.com.
Tan could have possibly been jailed for up to three years, fined, or suffered both punishments for intentionally wounding an individual’s racial feelings could be jailed for up to three years, fined, or both.
He could have also carried a jail sentence for up to a year, fined a maximum of $40,000 or suffered both for possessing obscene films.
However, Tan expressed remorse for his actions through his behaviour change.
Tan publicly apologised to Mr Dave Parkash and his partner, Ms Jacqueline Ho, last year.
He also turned himself in to the police and cooperated with this case’s investigations and court proceedings.
For Tan’s show of remorse on social media and in Court, Deputy Public Prosecutor Yeow Xuan decided to seek only four weeks of jail for him. She also left the acceptable fine amount for the Court to decide.
On the other hand, the defence counsel sought a lighter community-based sentence or a fine of $5,000 for Tan.
The defence counsel argued that Tan had no history of discrimination against any race or religion in his 30 years of teaching at NP. However, it did seem that there were accusations by former NP students that he did bring up some contentious topics in his lectures before.
In addition, it seemed that the defence counsel tried to explain Tan’s racist tendencies, chalking up to his past experiences with his daughter, who ran away from home after he had a falling out about her relationship with an Indian man. Talk about projecting your problems onto innocent people.
Unfortunately for Tan, the Court did not let him off so easily.
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The Court’s Ruling & Tan’s Sentence
Judge Victor Yeo acknowledged Tan’s (rightful) remorse for his racist behaviour towards the couple.
He shared in his judgment that if not for his cooperation with the investigations, he would have been sentenced to a worse punishment than the suggested four weeks of jail the Deputy Public Prosecutor had sought.
However, he deemed his behaviour in the heated exchange with Parkash and Ho inexcusable, and his comments definitely “crossed the red line”.
Judge Victor Yeo held that Tan had approached the couple on his own accord and directed his unhappiness towards them, despite Tan insinuating it was Parkash and Ho trying to disturb racial harmony. It was a classic example of saying people, say yourself better.
It was unprovoked racist harassment. Imagine you are walking down the streets happily, and someone comes up to you saying you are born the wrong skin colour, and your partner is a disgrace for being in a relationship with you.
On this matter, Judge Victor Yeo ruled that Tan’s comments were troubling, as he suggested that something was wrong with being a certain race, which would undermine racial harmony in Singapore.
Judge Victor Yeo also argued that Tan had no qualms about continuing to direct his racist and hurtful remarks at Parkash and Ho despite knowing Ho was filming him during the exchange. He was persistent in harassing the couple, who were minding their business.
Judge Victor Yeo commended the couple for staying calm and composed during the whole exchange, as matters could have gotten out of hand were it to escalate to using vulgarities and violence.
Tan will begin to serve his sentence today, 29 December 2022.
The moral of the story is that if you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It does not hurt to be kind.
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Featured Image: Dave Parkash / Facebook