Mr Wang is feeling ... a bit frustrated. He has just poked around the blogosphere. He gets the impression that many bloggers out there simply do not understand the situation. So Mr Wang feels duty-bound to forgo his sleep again, and help to cast some light into the Collective Darkness of the Blogospheric Superconscious. Well, God bless Mr Wang's noble heart.
Where to begin? First, the name of the statute - the Sedition Act. Woah, soooooo scary. Don't be silly, children. The name in itself tells you nothing. What matters is the substance of the law in it. The word sedition has all kinds of nasty connotations but if you really want to know whether the law is scary, you have to look at the actual provisions.
Under the Sedition Act, first-time offenders can be fined up to S$5,000, or jailed up to three years, or both. As maximum sentences go, this is not particularly scary. The maximum sentence here is roughly the same as that for simple theft (the least serious form of theft), which is punishable with up to three year's imprisonment and fine (no limit specified).
Also note that in practice, maximum sentences are rarely imposed. For example, although the maximum sentence for simple theft is three years and a fine, the reality is that first-time thieves usually get a fine and no jail time at all (if they do get a jail term, it is typically for a day or two).
Maximum sentences are reserved for the most severe kind of cases that you would be able to imagine, for each type of offence. Most of the time, maximum sentences are just theoretical, something that SPH journalists always bother to tell you about, but which hardly happen in real life.
Also Mr Wang wishes to point out that it is not as if the Sedition Act suppresses all speech about race and religion. Mr Wang does not think that any blogger who wishes to engage in serious, sincere debate and discussion about social issues has any real reason to fear the Sedition Act. The Act itself says:
"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; [or]
(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
if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency."
Mr Wang is aware, of course, that bloggers may respond, "But Mr Wang, all this is pretty subjective, isn't it? Who is to say what constitutes serious, sincere discussion, and who is to say when such discussion will cross over into sedition?"
Well, of course there is an element of subjectivity. But are you unnecessarily frightening yourself? Do the facts of the present case, as we currently know them to be, warrant alarm on your own part? We already know that the two bloggers had advocated ethnic cleansing. One posted a doctored picture clearly designed to insult the Muslim religion. This is really extreme. Were YOU planning to go that far, in your "serious, sincere" discussion?
If so, then be afraid. Be very afraid. And when you too are charged under the Sedition Act, Mr Wang will clap his hands in glee. You deserve it.
On a separate note, Randy Kluver, NTU's well-known Internet expert, wonders why the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was not used instead. I am too lazy to poke around and refresh my memory of how the MRHA works. But from what I can recall, I think it is much more preferable to proceed under the Sedition Act.
If I recall correctly, the MHRA has provisions whereby the Minister can directly order action to be taken against the offending persons. As in the Internal Security Act, the MHRA excludes the courts (and the prosecution) from the process. From a civil rights perspective, this is not ideal. It is far better to have the bloggers charged under the Sedition Act, and brought to trial in open court. There is more fairness and transparency.
Also, the MHRA deals with religion, not race. Whereas the bloggers' posts were offensive not just on religious grounds, but also on racial grounds. Thus the MHRA is just not completely right to deal with these bloggers. Whereas the Sedition Act, designed to deal with the promotion of hostility between "different races or classes of the population of Singapore", comes a lot closer to the heart of the matter.
As usual for hot topics, if you want to know who's saying what about this topic in blogosphere, all you need to do is visit Singapore Angle.