Sedition in Singapore – as easy as pi

I’m keen to keep up with the Gopalan Nair case, so today I visited Chia Ti Lik’s blog. Ti Lik is Nair’s lawyer and so fairly close to the case.

The most recent post is one I’ve already linked to, dated 5th June. But I started to re-read it and realised that Nair is likely to face a sedition charge when he appears in court again on Thursday 12 June.

Singapore’s sedition law is a product of old colonial rule – as is so much of “law” in former colonies – and it had fallen into disuse until recently. It was used in 2005 against a small group of bloggers who were allegedly inciting racism against Malays. This was apparently the first time since the mid-60s.

The sedition law was originally used to prosecute alleged communists in the early post-war years. The Cold War was very useful then and it still is today.

A brief introduction to sedition

Sedition laws all over the world are basically similar in construction and intent – they are measures designed to defeat revolution and insurgency and the advocating of violent change. Thus they are very useful for capitalism. While ever the State has a monopoly of armed force then the citizenry, even when armed, is breaking the law if they try to overthrow the government.

Given that in most places, most of the time, most people have no inclination to overthrow a government you can see that were such a situation arise – and have any real chance of success – things would be in pretty bad shape. Hopefully in a truly revolutionary situation we would be successful in our overthrow of the existing State and so will escape sedition charges (and possibly the firing squad).

Perhaps you could argue that any State facing such resistance from its own people has probably passed its use-by date and is in desperate need of being over-thrown.That is, at the time of the overthrow there ‘s a legitimate citizens’ application of force against the State, most likely involving disaffected members of the armed forces too.

As much as I’m in favour of sedition as a way of life and language; and as much as I’d like to see the repressive Singapore regime overthrown, I don’t think that there is much (NO) likelihood of a violent upsurge on the streets of the city state any time soon. The key opposition party could only muster around 30 or so supporters for a candlelight vigil when two members were gaoled. They were singing “We shall overcome”, for God’s sake, not calling for the Lee family to be strung up.

Singapore’s sedition laws are well explained at Wikipedia. Here’s a key section of the Act:

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.

Nair’s lawyer thinks his client might be charged with sedition at his next court appearance, at least based on what he could learn when Gopalan was released last Thursday.

It has transpired that Gopalan Nair was in fact administered the S.122(6) caution statement in respect of the charge of sedition and the possibility would be that….. Well lets take this one step at a time. I have an idea as to how it would proceed and until 12th June 2008 when the fresh charges are tendered, what we would be doing is just speculating. [read Ti Lik’s blog]

As I mentioned the Sedition Act was first used in the modern era in 2005 against three bloggers who had allegedly incited racial hatred online. On October 7, 2005 two of the three were convicted, fined and briefly gaoled. A month later the third was also convicted and put on probation due to his age and good character.

Any discussion of race or religion in Singapore is sensitive and the Media Development Authority requires any website that wishes to host such discussion to be registered and the MDA can impose fines if the rules are breached.

Registration serves to emphasize the need for such content providers to be responsible and accountable for what they say. This is important, given the multi-racial, multi-religious nature of our society. Registration is a simple administrative procedure and content providers are only required to give the MDA the particulars of the website and those who are responsible for the editorial content. This is as straight-forward as the completion of a form. Registration does not mean the promotion of political or religious causes is allowed. [read MDA Internet policy]

The Beast has some interesting notes on sedition in Singapore and how bloggers can get around the laws.

In April this year a couple was charged with sedition and with distributing a banned publication – in this case a nasty religious tract called The Little Bride. This is an anti-Muslim comic aimed at children and it’s being distributed by evangelical christians and a company called Chick Publications.

The cartoons are offensive, no doubt about that. Religious intolerance is not on, not even for a level 7 atheist like Ethical Martini.

To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible. [Richard Dawkins is not an atheist – says Ergo]

However, there’s a world of difference between literally preaching religious hatred and holding controversial views about your own government.

And there’s a long long road between calling for justice in the legal system and demanding the overthrow of the State. For instance, the other players in the current saga, the Chee siblings are hardly revolutionaries, though they do have a long history of opposition to the current Singapore regime.

Striding into the Chinese restaurant of Singapore’s historic Fullerton Hotel, Chee Soon Juan hardly looks like a dangerous revolutionary. Casually dressed in a blue shirt with a gold pen clipped to the pocket, he could pass as just another mild-mannered, apolitical Singaporean. [Far Eastern Economic Review profile]

Why would the Chees put themselves through this, time after time. The FEER profile is from July 2006, and even then Chee Soon Juan was a martyr to his cause.

Nevertheless, according to prosecutors, this same man is not only a criminal, but a repeat offender. The opposition party leader has just come from a pre-trial conference at the courthouse, where he faces eight counts of speaking in public without a permit. He has already served numerous prison terms for this and other political offenses, including eight days in March for denying the independence of the judiciary. He expects to go to jail again later this year.

Christ, Speaking in public without a permit. Why would the Singapore government have to bother with bloody sedition when it can prosecute people for exercising their fundamental right to free speech? DrChee certainly draws some heavy fire, including from prominent columnists at the government-owned Straits Times who have no problem exercising their rights to free puppet speech.

Call it the touch of the unusual in Singapore politics. He has been jailed six times, hauled to court for defaming Singapore’s top political leadership and has even taken his civil disobedience campaign to an American university — where the then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was to receive an honorary degree — by attending a forum organised by those who had opposed the award. [the 7 June 2008 Straits Times hatchet job on Dr Chee]

You can see that, like Gopalan Nair, Dr Chee is driven by something. I believe that something is a desire to change Singapore, to introduce real democracy.

Good luck to Dr Chee and his sister. And good luck to to Gopalan Nair, blogger and critic. If you’re charged with sedition by that corrupt government you deserve to be a hero.

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