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The Straits Times
September 5, 2023
Local rapper Subhas Nair was handed a six-week jail sentence on Tuesday over four counts of trying to promote feelings of ill will between different racial and religious groups in Singapore.
The musician, whose full name is Subhas Govin Prabhakar Nair, 31, had earlier claimed trial before District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan convicted him of all four charges in July.
The first charge centred on a video by City Revival Church founder Jaime Wong and social media influencer Joanna Theng.
The two women had made remarks linking the gay pride movement to Satan.
Nair responded to the video, posting a message on Instagram on July 25, 2020, stating: “If two Malay Muslims made a video promoting Islam and saying the kinds of hateful things these Chinese Christians said, ISD (Internal Security Department) would have been at the door before they even hit ‘upload’.”
He removed the post on Nov 2, 2020.
In their submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutors Suhas Malhotra and Jordon Li said the obvious message behind Nair’s post is that Malay Muslims are “targeted” by the authorities, while Chinese Christians get “preferential treatment”.
On the first day of his trial on March 21, 2023, Nair, who is represented by lawyer Suang Wijaya, admitted he had posted messages which the prosecution described as inflammatory comments on race and religion.
But Nair denied he had done so in an attempt to promote ill will between different racial and religious groups in Singapore.
He also testified that the video by the two women contained “hate speech”, adding: “We need to admonish statements like these.”
The DPPs said his explanations were unbelievable, stressing that Nair had admitted during the trial that it was his decision to refer to Ms Wong and Ms Theng by their race and religion as identifiers.
The prosecutors added: “If his intent was indeed to admonish hate speech as he claimed in court, there was no reason to draw specific attention to the race and religion of the people using the hate speech.”
Nair’s second and third charges involved another Instagram post which was his response to a news article linked to a Mr Chan Jia Xing, then 27.
Mr Chan was initially accused of murdering Mr Satheesh Noel Gobidass, 31, at Orchard Towers in July 2019.
Mr Chan’s murder charge was later reduced to that of consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon in a public place, and he was given a conditional warning in October 2020.
The case involving Mr Satheesh’s alleged killer, Tan Sen Yang, is pending.
Among other things, Nair had stated in his Instagram post: “Calling out racism and Chinese privilege, two-year conditional warning and smear campaign in the media.”
During the trial in March, DPP Malhotra said: “This post creates feelings of ill will between Chinese and Indians in Singapore... The accused’s post implied that the law enforcement authorities treat Indians far more severely than Chinese.”
But Nair testified that he did not intend to create enmity between the different races.
He told the court that he was instead commenting on the state of journalism here after an unnamed news platform asked Mr Chan about his baby following his conditional warning.
Nair had said in his Instagram post: “Do you actually think a brown person would get asked these types of questions?”
The DPPs said in their submissions that this Instagram post sought to advance the narrative that Singapore was “biased against the Indian community”.
The fourth charge was linked to a rap video featuring Nair that was posted on YouTube on July 29, 2019, which contained lyrics that were deemed offensive to Chinese people.
During the trial, Nair testified that the video was done in response to an advertisement which featured local actor Dennis Chew playing multiple roles, including that of an Indian man and a Malay woman.
He told the court that he wanted his rap video to convey the message that the advertisement was blatantly racist. He added that the rap video was directed towards some Chinese, whom he said are racist. Stressing that not all Chinese are racist, Nair said he wanted to end instances of “brownface” in Singapore.
Brownface is a social phenomenon, usually involving a light-skinned person pretending to be somebody of a different ethnicity who has a darker complexion.
DPP Malhotra said during the trial: “Had the accused displayed his offence to the advertisement in a temperate and dignified manner, no criminal offence would have been committed. Instead, the accused resorted to insulting and ridiculing Chinese people in general.”
On Tuesday, Mr Wijaya told the court that Nair maintains his position of not being guilty of the offences. The lawyer also said his client intends to appeal against his conviction and sentence.