SINGAPORE: Singaporean rapper Subhas Nair was accused by the prosecution of “twisting the facts” to suit his own narrative, in a racially charged trial on Wednesday (Mar 22).
Nair, whose full name is Subhas Govin Prabhakar Nair, was cross-examined by Deputy Public Prosecutor Suhas Malhotra over four charges of attempting to promote ill will between races or religions.
Mr Malhotra took Nair, 31, through each of the four incidents, comparing what he said in court with statements he gave to the police as well as an apology jointly released with his sister, the social media personality known as Preetipls.
The incidents were between July 2019 and March 2021, some when he had already received a conditional warning for similar offences earlier.
The offending content was a YouTube video of a remixed song targeted at the Chinese, as well as social media comments with comparisons of Indians and Chinese or Malay Muslims and Chinese Christians.
Nair had claimed in his evidence in chief, under questioning by his lawyer Mr Suang Wijaya, that he did not intend to cause ill will between races or religions by his words.
He said he had several other intentions, including “calling out” racism, making a statement on media bias and admonishing hate speech.
But on Wednesday, Mr Malhotra put it to Nair that what he claimed to be intended messages were contrary to what an “objective” reader would think upon viewing the content.
THE ISD POST
One example cited was an Instagram post Nair made in response to a viral video by two Christians who linked the gay pride movement to Satan.
He wrote: “If two Malay Muslims made a video promoting Islam and saying the kinds of hateful things these Chinese Christians said, ISD would have been at the door before they even hit ‘upload’.”
Nair said the message he wanted to convey here was that even though authorities might not have followed up on the video, “we the people” need to admonish such messages.
He stressed that it was not a message about the efficiency of the ISD (Internal Security Department).
But Mr Malhotra put it to Nair that to any reasonable person, the implication of the post was that the ISD is efficient when it comes to responding to hate speech by Malay Muslims, but not so much when it comes to Chinese Christians.
He said the terms “Malay Muslim” were “purely descriptive terms”.
Mr Malhotra put it to Nair that he was trying to change his evidence and imply a message “clearly not borne out by the post”, but Nair again disagreed “wholeheartedly”.
Mr Malhotra then told Nair that he did not work for the ISD and was not privy to how they determined whether to take action in some cases and not in others.
The prosecutor asked if it was possible that authorities chose not to take action because the video had been removed within a few days of its upload.
Nair acknowledged that he could not comment on this as he did not know how the ISD worked.
Mr Malhotra pointed out that Nair had said in his police statement that his Instagram post was an observation and personal opinion on the speed and efficiency of ISD’s response to such cases, with the hope that the Chinese Christians would be quickly dealt with.
Nair responded that he hoped authorities would swiftly take action against anyone.
Mr Malhotra put it to Nair that he was trying to present a narrative where Malay Muslims were targeted by the authorities while Chinese Christians received preferential treatment.
Nair disagreed, and said he believed in the impartiality of authorities.
THE ORCHARD TOWERS POST
In another set of questioning, Mr Malhotra asked about an Instagram post Nair made in response to the case of Chan Jia Xing, who was given a conditional warning for a reduced charge of consorting with a person who had a weapon. Chan was one of seven people originally charged with murdering a man at Orchard Towers.
In his post, Nair wrote that “calling out racism and Chinese privilege” equalled a two-year conditional warning and “smear campaign in the media”.
On the other hand, “actually conspiring to murder an Indian man” equalled half the sentence and questions from the media on whether Chan was having a baby soon, said Nair.
“Do you actually think a brown person would get asked these type of questions? This place is just not for us,” he wrote.
Nair agreed upon questioning by the prosecutor that he was referring to himself when he wrote “calling out racism and Chinese privilege”.
This was in reference to the YouTube rap video he made with his sister Preeti Nair, which included the words “Chinese people always out here f***ing it up”.
For this, he received a two-year conditional warning from the police.
Mr Malhotra said Nair’s Instagram post was inviting the reader to compare the consequences that he, an Indian man, received for a lesser offence compared with what Chan, a Chinese man, received.
Nair said this was not true and that he was only inviting the reader to explore the consequences of the media’s reporting, and how it covers certain cases versus others.
He added that he was only responding to how Chan was asked by the media about his baby and whether it was a boy or girl.
Mr Malhotra charged that Nair was trying to paint a narrative: That in Singapore, an Indian man receives a harsher sentence for calling out Chinese privilege; than a Chinese man receives for murdering an Indian man.
Nair disagreed. He said he felt the media was asking Chan questions that highlighted his humanity despite the fact that Chan was linked to a murder case.
Conversely, he received no such questions and felt vilified by the media. He said he felt the media’s question to Chan – about a new life – was insensitive in light of the loss of an Indian man’s life in the Orchard Towers murder.
Nair said there were “little to no reports” about the Indian victim and nothing about his life, family or that he had a good heart.
Mr Malhotra then asked if Nair felt the media had to report that the victim was a good man and a father.
“In your post you didn’t write ‘actually conspiring to murder a good man’ did you?” asked Mr Malhotra, to which Nair said “no”.
“You didn’t write ‘actually conspiring to murder a father’? You didn’t write ‘actually conspiring to murder a human being’?”
Nair responded in the negative.
“Of all the aspects of the victim’s story that you felt are important to cover in order to show his humanity, the one characteristic that you highlighted in your post was his race,” said Mr Malhotra.
“Yes, being an Indian includes being a good man, a father and a human being,” replied Nair.
“It’s important to include his race because I believe media reports minorities differently from how they report stories about non-minorities.”
Mr Malhotra broke into a smile and said: “Mr Nair, I can tell you for a fact that not all Indians I personally know are good men, and not all Indians I know are fathers.”
Nair later clarified this portion in re-examination by his lawyer, and said he believed that the victim’s role of being a father, husband and good person was not highlighted in the media because he was Indian. That was why he highlighted the victim’s race, said Nair.
Mr Malhotra then brought Nair through the news article on Chan Jia Xing that Nair was responding to on Instagram. He got Nair to read the article, and asked if it was clear that Chan’s conditional warning was not for murder.
The murder charge had been withdrawn and the conditional warning was for consorting with a person with an offensive weapon.
Nair argued that from a layperson’s perspective, Chan was still involved in the murder and that ideas of consorting and conspiring were similar.
He added: “I still believe he was involved in the murder of an Indian man.”
The trial was adjourned for closing submissions.
If convicted of attempting to promote feelings of ill will between racial or religious groups, Nair could be jailed for up to three years, fined or both.