Singapore warns against spreading fake news about foreign workers living in dorms

Gurdip Singh

Singapore, Apr 29 (PTI) Singapore on Wednesday warned against spreading fake news and videos about migrants workers, saying this could disturb the law and order situation in dormitories where a large number of foreign workers, including Indian nationals, have been tested positive for COVID-19.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam warned that such videos can lead to serious law and order incidents. He said the authorities are watching individuals who spread the videos 'very carefully'.

Warning those spreading fake news maliciously, he said, they will be charged if a crime was committed.

The Indian-origin minister's warning came as hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have been barred from leaving their cramped dormitories to curb the spread of COVID-19, as they make up a majority of Singapore's new cases each day, according to a Channel News Asia report on Wednesday.

So far, a total of 12,183 of the 323,000 migrant workers living in dormitories - about 3.77 per cent - have tested positive, putting the spotlight on their living conditions.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the city-state on Wednesday rose to 15,641 with a vast majority of them being migrant workers.

Shanmugam said a number of fake and 'very malicious' videos were circulating on social media, with one suggesting that a Bangladeshi worker in Singapore committed suicide because of a lack of money and work.

Another video purportedly showed two men of South Asian origin fighting in a dorm in Singapore, when in fact the incident took place in Dubai, Shanmugam pointed out.

'It's to create panic, unhappiness, anger and hopefully violence,' the minister told reporters via video conference.

Shanmugam said the videos also serve to make Singaporeans believe that foreign workers here were being treated badly, despite authorities ensuring they continued to get paid, three meals a day and 'first-class medical treatment'.

The minister acknowledged that while it was impossible that every worker would be satisfied with the quality of the free meals, a 'majority of them' said the quality of the food they received was good, the report said.

'But even now, people are deliberately circulating old photographs of food packets; sometimes food being thrown away from some places, not necessarily Singapore, and saying, 'you see, these workers are being ill-treated',' he was quoted as saying.

'And (this is) also encouraging them to come out and complain, even when there's nothing to complain about.' Shanmugam said the authorities were watching the people who spread these videos and photos 'very closely' and added 'where it's clearly criminal, we will charge (in court)'.

However, he declined to give details on how many people were being investigated for circulating such posts, only adding that they comprised both locals and foreigners.

Shanmugam reiterated that such posts could lead to 'serious' law and order situations, including a 'riot-like situation'.

'You can see that when people are together and they are not going out to work, a small spark can create a serious incident,' he said, referring to the 2013 Little India riots involving some 300 South Asian workers including those from India.

'We need to be very careful. We are taking care of them (the foreign workers), but at the same time they can be stoked into anger, creating law and order incidents through the use of falsehoods,' the minister said. PTI GS PMS AKJ PMS