Monday, September 12, 2005

CNA.com: Bloggers charged under Sedition Act for Racist Remarks

*Brrr! it might be getting more chilly*

Here are the relevant bits of the Sedition Act, (Cap. 290, Sing. Rev. Ed. 1985), from Statutes Online

Interpretation.
2. In this Act —

"publication" includes all written or printed matter and everything whether of a nature similar to written or printed matter or not containing any visible representation or by its form, shape or in any other manner capable of suggesting words or ideas, and every copy and reproduction or substantial reproduction of any publication;

"seditious" when applied to or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication or other thing qualifies such act, speech, words, publication or other thing as one having a seditious tendency;

"words" includes any phrase, sentence or other consecutive number or combination of words, oral or written.

Seditious tendency.
3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;

(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —

(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;

(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;

(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or

(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.

(3) For the purpose of proving the commission of any offence under this Act, the intention of the person charged at the time he did or attempted to do or made any preparation to do or conspired with any person to do any act or uttered any seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any publication or did any other thing shall be deemed to be irrelevant if in fact such act had, or would, if done, have had, or such words, publication or thing had a seditious tendency.

The only real question I have is this, what were the comments they made, did they actually encourage violence against members of another race?

It should be blatently obvious by now that I'm a great believer in free speech and like Voltaire, I might hate what you say but I will defend your right to say it. Repugnant as hate speech might be (and I seriously doubt it got that far), to combat it using the full force of the criminal law is an overkill and legitimises what is often nothing more than stupidity and irrationality.

Combat irrational speech with rational speech, fight ideas with ideas. Charging them with this act is not likely to get them to change their minds, but to shut them up and make them more resentful. Those who share similar sentiments are not likely to be persuaded and are only going to see it as the government protecting the other races.

But more to the specifics of the case, there was a huge online discussion regarding this incident. Surely the message that any reasonable person would take away is that Singaporeans as a whole are NOT racist. And I think that, more than anything else, assures me that we have move on and past our racially charged past. I am not saying that things are perfect, BUT it should be evident that we are not likely going to see the racial riots that occur back in the 1960s again. The government urging us to be harmonious and tolerant is one thing, but this is proof of the pudding.

I seriously hope the judges realise how chilling the effects on free discussion, expression and speech it would be if the decision is not crafted properly. We still generally don't throw people into jail for being stupid and irresponsible unless they actually kill, hurt someone or are in a state highly conducive towards hurting someone e.g. criminal negligence, drunk driving etc. Let's hope they keep it that way.

Peace

Labels: