'No logic': Jail for Singaporean who argued he has the right to insult foreigners

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SINGAPORE - A Singaporean man who berated two foreign workers with xenophobic insults said in his defence that it was his "constitutional right" to express himself as the pair were in his neighbourhood.

After a trial at a district court, Lee Poh Kian, 56, was on Thursday (July 28) sentenced to a week's jail and fined $1,000.

In response to Lee's claims to his rights, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh said in his submissions: "At no point did the accused make any valid arguments regarding the Constitution to support his case.

"It is also glaringly obvious that there is no such constitutional right."

Lee also failed to wear a mask over his nose and mouth when he approached Mr Ratnasingam Jatheesan and Mr Krishnan Karthikeyan and insulted them in Toa Payoh on July 12 last year.

Court documents did not disclose the foreign workers' nationalities.

Last month, District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt convicted Lee of two counts of harassment and an offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

The court heard that Mr Ratnasingam and Mr Krishnan were taking measurements for the construction of a linkway in Lorong 5 Toa Payoh last July when it started to rain.

The pair sought shelter at a corridor when Lee, who was nearby, started berating them with xenophobic insults.

Mr Ratnasingam recorded a video of the tirade, in which Lee said, among other things: "You enter my country is wrong... This government also illegal. We will get you out."

During the trial, Lee admitted that he had told the two men that "Singapore doesn't like them" and "they should go far, far away".

He also admitted that he had told them that "the Singapore government would remove them from (the country)".

The workers had never interacted with Lee prior to this incident, the court heard.

They also did not use abusive language on Lee.

DPP Teh said that Lee's tirade caused Mr Krishnan to feel upset, stressed and insulted.

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The prosecutor added that Mr Ratnasingam felt "very sad and stressed" and "very down".

DPP Teh said that Lee, who was not represented by a lawyer, had no valid defence and what he said "failed to hold an iota of logic".

Lee had said that he was entitled to use those words against the pair because of the "crime situation" and "overcrowding" in Singapore caused by foreign nationals.

The prosecutor added: "He also stated that if foreign nationals such as (the pair) still come to Singapore despite it being overcrowded, it is 'very illegal'.

"On the same note, the accused... even implicitly referred to himself as xenophobic."

The court heard that Lee had presented no evidence of the two foreign workers committing any offence.

He even acknowledged that he had nothing personal against them.

For each count of harassment, an offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $5,000.

For an offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, a first-time offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000. A repeat offender can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $20,000.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.