SINGAPORE — A man who posted racially insensitive comments online under the pseudonym "Sharon Liew" on Twitter was jailed for three weeks on Tuesday (8 June).
The court heard that Singaporean Zainal Abidin Shaiful Bahari had originally conceptualised the Twitter account “SharonLiew86” – with a profile photo of a Chinese woman – as a parody account with two friends.
The 35-year-old, then a senior director at a computer software company, pleaded guilty to two out of four counts of promoting enmity between different racial groups by committing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of racial harmony and which are likely to disturb public tranquillity, with the remaining two counts considered for his sentencing.
Zainal and the two friends, both 33-year-old Singaporean women, set up the account in July 2018. They chose a photo through a random Internet search for a Chinese woman.
According to the prosecution, the account was conceptualised as a parody account satirising racially insensitive Singaporeans. It garnered more than 5,600 followers at one point. However, the two friends stopped posting the tweets from early 2019, and Zainal took sole control of the account.
He then published multiple tweets that were racially offensive between 2019 and April last year.
Alluded to Lee Kuan Yew book
According to his charges, Zainal made a post around 11 October 2019 belittling the Malay community. Among other things, he alluded to the book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going and allegedly said, “Malay express is Chinese normals academic. Malay NA is Chinese normal technical Malay normal tech is ackcherly (sic) same as Assumption Cocation Institute (sic).”
Then on 25 March last year, he tweeted, “From long ago oreadi (sic) smart Chinese womans do social distancing inside MRT when we die die dont want to sit next to smelly apuneneh", using a racial slur to refer to Indians.
Zainal used the same slur on 17 April last year when he wrote on Twitter, “You don't know how to behave later apuneneh coronavirus catch you".
The tweet was circulated with at least 39 retweets, and it was shared at least 479 times. Zainal took down the tweet about half an hour after realising it was going viral, and was generating substantial negative responses.
However, the next day, Zainal insulted the pottu or bindi – a coloured dot worn on the centre of the forehead by Hindus with religious significance. He stated, "I thought Indian is oreadi (sic) very use to being target as they have sniper dot on forehead".
From January 2019 to April last year, a total of three police reports were filed against Zainal's racially offensive tweets. One of these reports, filed on 14 October 2019, was by a member of the public who was aware that the account had started off as a parody, but was nonetheless offended by the 11 October tweet.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Senthilkumaran Sabapathy sought four weeks' jail for Zainal, stating that it was aggravating that he had used a masked identity.
Married to a Chinese woman, son of mixed race
In mitigation, Zainal’s lawyer Sunil Sudheesan sought a three-week jail term for his client. He said his client was obviously “not a racist” but used the account as a “parody account”.
Unfortunately, people did not know the intention of certain tweets and forwarded them without the intention of Zainal, said the lawyer.
He said Zainal was “very sorry” for this and “should have anticipated this”.
He withdrew the most serious tweet after 20 minutes, said the lawyer, describing his client as a “good man” and asking for the judge to be merciful.
Sunil pointed out that Zainal was married to a Chinese woman, and their son was of mixed-race.
Apart from having racially diverse friends, Zainal also headed a racially diverse team and valued racial and cultural diversity, said Sunil, who added that his client wanted to raise his son in an inclusive environment.
District Judge Jennifer Marie said that offenders must realise callous and offensive remarks online had the potential to cause disorder, harming the peace and harmony in Singapore.
Zainal could have been jailed up to three years and given a fine, or both.
More Singapore news:
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at t.me/YahooSingapore