Ministry of Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Consultation Period:
16 Apr 2024 - 11 Jun 2024

Detailed Description

1.The Ministry of Home Affairs (“MHA”) is seeking feedback on the proposed Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill (“the Bill”), as well as related measures to be introduced alongside the Bill.


2.Singapore’s racial and religious harmony is of paramount importance, and arguably an existential issue for our society. We have invested significant effort since independence – through legislation, policies, institutions and other measures – to preserve this harmony. In the context of religious harmony, one key measure is the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (“MRHA”), which was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2019. The MRHA amendments in 2019 consolidated and expanded our levers to protect religious harmony, including criminalising conduct that harms religious harmony, providing safeguards against foreign influence in our religious organisations, and allowing a person who has committed offences against religious harmony to take remedial actions to soothe tensions and repair ties in lieu of prosecution. These objectives also apply in the context of racial harmony, and serve as the impetus for the proposed Bill.

Proposed Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill

3.The proposed Bill will include the following provisions:

Proposal #1: To port over and review race-related offences

4.MHA will port over offences under the Penal Code which deal with threats to racial harmony, namely s298 and s298A (please see Annex for the relevant Penal Code provisions referenced in this section). s298 concerns acts which wound the racial feelings of any person, while s298A concerns acts which promote enmity, hatred or ill will between racial groups, or which are otherwise prejudicial to inter-racial harmony.

5.The offences under the Bill that correspond to s298 and s298A will not require an element of threat to public peace or public order to be made out. This is the same as the threshold in s298 and s298A(a). 

6.This is different from the MRHA, where certain offences are differentiated depending on whether the offender is a religious leader or a layperson. For acts committed by laypersons (i.e. not religious leaders), there must be a threat to public peace or public order to constitute an offence under the MRHA1. In the context of race, there is no direct equivalent of “religious leaders”, hence we will be holding all persons to the same standard under the Bill. 

7.Under s267C of the Penal Code, the incitement of violence is already a criminal offence, and s74 enhances penalties for offences motivated by, or where offenders demonstrate, hostility towards members of a racial group

a. To further deter the urging of violence based on race, the Bill will introduce an offence for acts that urge violence against other groups or their members, on the grounds of race. For instance, a racial supremacist urging violence against people with disabilities – even members of their own race – on the grounds of “racial purity”, would be committing an offence under the Bill.

b. As this is a racially aggravated offence, the penalties will be the same as the enhanced penalties provided for by s74 of the Penal Code for an offence under s267C of the Penal Code that is racially aggravated.

8.The provisions above reflect the Government’s strong stance against conduct and speech that threaten racial harmony. Repeated exposure to hate crimes and speech can deepen feelings of prejudice and distrust, and sow discord amongst communities. It can also desensitise individuals and normalise unacceptable behaviour.

9.The Government is also mindful of striking a balance between keeping public discourse free from hateful or offensive speech, and allowing space for legitimate discourse, private communications, and remarks made in good faith. The Bill will include provisions to take this into account. 

Proposal #2: To introduce Restraining Orders against content prejudicial to racial harmony 

10.The Bill will enable the Minister for Home Affairs to make restraining orders (“ROs”) against the production or distribution of content that prejudices the maintenance of racial harmony in Singapore. Specifically, an RO can restrain a person or entity (where appropriate) from:

a. Being involved in the communication or distribution of specified information or material; 

b. Addressing a specified audience on a specified subject;

c. Printing, editing, assisting, or contributing to a specified publication; and

d. Holding office in an editorial board or a committee of a specified publication.

11.The power to make such ROs will enable us to act quickly and pre-emptively against content that threatens racial harmony, without having to establish that the person is engaging in criminal conduct. This is similar to the RO regime in the MRHA.

12.The grounds for issuing an RO under the Bill will differ slightly from the MRHA to account for differences between race and religion. While the MRHA allows for ROs to be issued to safeguard against the mixing of religion and politics, MHA recognises that we cannot simply replicate the separation of religion and politics in the context of race. Religion must be kept separate from politics, and no group can be allowed to exploit religious issues or manipulate religious organisations, whether to excite disaffection or to win political support. In a multi-religious society, if one group does so, others will inevitably follow suit, and the outcome will be strife and conflict in society, endangering our political stability.

13.While we do not want to have politics organised by race in Singapore, our approach in the Bill recognises that there are elements of our political system which already have a racial element to them, precisely because we want to safeguard against race-based politics. For example, the need for minority representation is ingrained in our political system via the Group Representation Constituencies and Reserved Presidential Election. We therefore do not intend to include the mixing of race and politics as one of the grounds for the issuance of an RO in this Bill. 

14.The exercise of ROs will be subject to safeguards, similar to those in the MRHA: 

a. All ROs will be reviewed by a Presidential Council (“the Council”), and the person against whom an RO is made will be able to make representations to the Council.

b. After an RO is reviewed by the Council, it will be sent to the President for confirmation together with the Council’s recommendation and Cabinet’s advice. If the Council’s recommendation is different from Cabinet’s advice, the President will be able to act in his discretion in deciding whether to confirm, cancel, or vary the RO.

c. The Council will consist of individuals who represent the different racial groups in Singapore or have distinguished themselves in public or community service. MHA is currently exploring the formation of a new Presidential Council on Racial and Religious Harmony by reconstituting and expanding the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.

d. The Constitution will be amended to give the President discretion to veto appointments of Council members and to cancel, vary, or confirm ROs in cases where the Council’s recommendation differs from Cabinet’s advice.

Proposal #3: To introduce safeguards against foreign influence through race-based organisations 

15.The Bill will also introduce safeguards against foreign influence through race-based organisations. Designated entities that promote the interests of a racial group or sub-group will be required to disclose foreign donations and foreign affiliations, and disclose their leadership composition and/or comply with leadership requirements. The Minister for Home Affairs will also be able to impose additional safeguards to counter foreign influence. 

16.These are similar to the existing safeguards in the MRHA against foreign influence through religious groups. However, unlike the safeguards in the MRHA, which apply to all religious groups, the safeguards in the Bill will apply only to designated race-based organisations. Race-based organisations are a much larger and more diverse group, and it is neither necessary nor desirable at this juncture for such safeguards to apply to all race-based organisations. 

17.MHA will engage community stakeholders to obtain their feedback on these proposals.

Introduction of Reparative Measures to Mend Community Ties

18.Racial incidents not only impact the victim, but also damage the ties between different races. Criminal prosecution alone does not provide for the reparation of community ties. Today, remedial initiatives occur on an ad hoc basis, for example, initiated by community partners out of goodwill. MHA, working with MCCY and other community partners, intends to introduce a separate set of reparative measures alongside the Bill, which may be offered by MHA/SPF to offenders as an alternative to prosecution for offences in the Bill. 

19.Such an approach helps the aggrieved community take a more reconciliatory view towards an offender and strengthens understanding between races. The offender is given an opportunity to learn from his mistakes while carrying out the reparative measures. 

20.Offenders whose actions are egregious, such as inciting violence or severely undermining social cohesion, will be recommended for criminal prosecution and will not be offered reparative measures. This is to send the right signal that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and to maintain a strong deterrence against such acts. For other offences which are less egregious, but nevertheless have caused harm to racial groups or the community at large, or which have the potential to threaten public peace or public order, offenders may be considered for an Enhanced Conditional Warning, where one of the conditions would entail the completion of reparative measures. If the offender does not accept this condition, or accepts but subsequently breaches this condition, he may be referred for criminal prosecution for the offences.

21.The details of the reparative measures are under development with the assistance of other agencies and community partners. Members of the public are welcome to provide feedback or suggestions on the proposed reparative measures.

Invitation to Provide Feedback

22.Members of the public are invited to submit their feedback and comments by 11 June 2024 via email at or by mail to the address below.

Ministry of Home Affairs
New Phoenix Park
28 Irrawaddy Road
Singapore 329560
Re: Public Consultation on the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill

23.Your feedback is important to us. All comments received will be considered. However, we seek the public’s understanding that we will not be able to individually acknowledge or address every comment. To maintain confidentiality of feedback contributors, we will anonymise and aggregate the results of this engagement exercise in any public disclosure.



1For instance, under s17F(1) of the MRHA, knowingly engaging in conduct that incites feelings of enmity against a religious group is an offence if the offender is a religious leader. However, for someone who is not a religious leader, an offence under s17F(3) of the MRHA is made out for the same conduct only if the feelings of enmity threaten public peace or public order in Singapore.

Under the MRHA, a “religious leader” refers to:

a) a priest, monk, pastor, mufti, imam, rabbi, elder or similar office-bearer in a religious group or religious institution; or

b) any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or religious institution in relation to the religious practice or worship, or the tenets of the religion or religious denomination, of that group or institution, but a person is not a religious leader by reason only that the person is a responsible officer of the religious group or a member of the governing body of the religious group.