Sedition Act (Singapore)
|An Act for the punishment of sedition.|
|Citation||Cap. 290, 1985 Rev. Ed.|
|Enacted by||Parliament of Singapore|
|Date commenced||28 May 1964|
|Sedition Ordinance 1948 (No. 14 of 1948) (Malaysia)|
The Sedition Act is in Chapter 290 of the Statutes of Singapore. It was last revised in 1985.
- 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 offense 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.
Provision against racist comments
Subsection 3 of the Act describes the types of publication that have seditious tendency and these includes publication that "promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes". Singapore takes social cohesion and racial harmony in the country seriously because of its multi-cultural makeup. About 40 percent of the population are foreigners, the sixth-highest percentage in the world. In 2009, 74.2% of residents were of Chinese, 13.4% of Malay, and 9.2% of Indian descent, while Eurasians and other groups form 3.2%.
Also contributing to the nation's sensitivity on racial harmony is its history of racial riots in the 1960s. More recent events of racial violence in neighboring Indonesia in the late 1990s and early 2000s also serve as reminders of potential inter-racial conflicts in the region.
Uses of the Act
In September 2005, the Sedition Act employed for the first time in the sentencing of two men who were charged with making seditious and inflammatory racist comments on the Internet.They made their remarks on Internet forums in response to a letter printed in The Straits Times.
On July 14, The Straits Times published a letter from a Muslim woman asking if cab companies allowed uncaged pets to be transported in taxis, after she saw a dog standing on a taxi seat next to its owner. She said that "dogs may drool on the seats or dirty them with their paws". Her concerns had a religious basis as according to Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed, chairman of Khadijah mosque, who pointed out that: "There are various Islamic schools of thought which differ in views. But most Muslims in Singapore are from the Shafi'i school of thought. This means they are not allowed to touch dogs which are wet, which would include a dog's saliva. This is a religious requirement.".
Two days later, in an online forum for Singaporean dog lovers www.doggiesite.com, a posted response was construed as anti-Muslim and as having "a seditious tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population in Singapore", according to the charges. The author pleaded guilty and served one day in jail and a fine of $5,000. [broken url]
Another man was accused of making similar racist remarks filled with vulgarities and insulting to Malays and their religion. He also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one month imprisonment.
In passing the sentences for both men on October 7, 2005, Senior District Judge Richard Magnus said the two had crossed the line by wantonly breaching the basic ground rules. He said passing a deterrent sentence was necessary so that such offending acts are tackled early and contained. He alluded to the racial riots of 1964 and reminded the public that "callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects" can spark social disorder regardless of the medium or forum on which they are expressed. .
Atheists (aka infidels or Kafirs) and ex-Muslims (referred to Murtads) who renounced from their faith assigned to them by birth, however, are not protected from seditious insulting and offensive remarks from religious groups and communities.
On September 16, a third person, a 17 year old youth, Gan Huai Shi, was also charged with the Sedition Act for making racist remarks on his blog site titled "The Second Holocaust".
The 17-year-old San Yu Adventist School student faced seven charges of sedition. He caused a furore when between April and July 2005 he posted a series of offensive comments about Malays - even admitting in one April 4 entry that he was 'extremely racist'.
Over the next three months, Gan made more inflammatory remarks mocking the Malay community and ridiculing their religion, which were deemed by the court to promote 'ill will and hostility' between races, an offence under the Sedition Act.
Between Aug 5 and 10 2005, three students and an engineer reported Gan's remarks to the police.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later commented that such remarks will not be tolerated, even if posted on the Internet. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said that the Sedition Act was under review to see if it should be strengthened or renewed.
In June 2006, it was reported that a 21-year-old blogger going by the moniker of "Char" was under police investigation for posting cartoons of Jesus Christ on the Internet. He was later let off with a stern warning from the police.
On April 15, 2008 the Straits Times reported that a middle-aged Christian couple, Ong Kian Cheong and his wife Dorothy Chan, were charged on the same day under both the Sedition Act and the Undesirable Publications Act with distributing seditious publications to two Muslim women in 2007; also, sending a second such booklet to another Muslim in December that same year. The booklet was the Jack Chick tract, "The Little Bride." The couple was found guilty of sedition on May 28, 2009, with a hearing set for June 4 for mitigation pleas and sentencing. The couple was eventually jailed for eight weeks. Under the law, the maximum jail term for distributing a seditious publication is three years' jail for a first offender.
- "Trends in international migrant stock: The 2008 revision", United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009).
- "Population Trends 2009". Singapore Department of Statistics. Retrieved 28 September 2009.
- Women Gateway. Use of sedition law causes stir in Singapore blogging community. http://www.womengateway.com/NR/exeres/486A85EF-2B82-421F-A730-CB0BB5718663.htm
- "Third racist blogger sentenced to 24 months supervised probation". Channel NewsAsia. 23 November 2005.
- "Jesus cartoons could draw jail for Singapore blogger". AFP. 14 June 2006.
- Popatlal, Asha (2006-07-20). "Blogger given serious warning for posting cartoons of Jesus Christ". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2006-07-20.
- "Couple charged under Sedition Act". Straits Times. 15 April 2008.
- "Christian couple convicted for anti-Muslim booklets". Agence France-Presse (AFP). 29 May 2009.
- "Duo jailed eight weeks". Straits Times. 11 June 2009.
- "Still room for bloggers". Channel NewsAsia. 16 September 2005.
- Singapore: Third racist blogger convicted but may avoid jail term - The Straits Times, posted on AsiaMedia (October 27, 2005)