20 June 2006

Oh Look, Mr Wang is Mentioned in the Press Again

ST June 18, 2006
Divided views over police checks on blogger
Netizens question need to apply the law in resolving 'offensive pictures' case; religious leaders want strong message sent about respect for other faiths

By Zakir Hussain

NETIZENS have condemned the man who complained to the police about a 21-year-old blogger who had posted pictures of Jesus Christ online that he deemed offensive.

They would rather Singaporeans resolve the matter by other means, such as letting other Internet users condemn the content online.

Many shared the view of blogger 'Mr Wang', a Singapore lawyer in his 30s.

'I am not saying that it's fine to go around offending people's race or religion,' he said. 'But when such incidents happen, it is not necessarily the case that the best response lies in the law or its instruments.'

Taaa-daa, there I am. (Aiyoh, so childish.)

Since I'd already said quite a lot about Char's case earlier, I'm going to comment just a little more today. First, the rest of the article:

But others outside the Net disagreed, and sanctioned the use of the law as a strong reminder to Singaporeans that online comment had its limits.

Religious leaders and social observers interviewed believe the law has a role to play in teaching people about the need to balance the right to free expression with the need to respect another's faith.

'The right to free speech stops when it begins to hurt the religious sensitivities of others,' said Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Church of St Mary of the Angels in Bukit Batok.

'That's when sometimes the law needs to come in to educate people.'

These opposing reactions to the ongoing investigation of the blogger, who calls himself Char online, stem from four images he had published earlier this year which were thought to be disrespectful of Jesus Christ.

They attracted complaints from one netizen, and in March, police started investigating his alleged flouting of the Sedition Act.


Law professor Thio Li-Ann from the National University of Singapore said that in investigating the matter, the Government was being even-handed and recognising respect for religious faiths as a key principle here.

She added: 'Given that 80 per cent of Singaporeans subscribe to some kind of religious faith, it is not conducive to denigrate any faith.'

Supporting the use of law, Anglican Bishop John Chew noted that disrespect of any religion or religious figure could result in ill will.

Said the vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore: 'We cannot say that just because the West has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should accept them.'

Agreeing, chairman of the Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies Ridzuan Wu called for society to take a consistent position when any religious figure is mocked.

'Muslims feel it is offensive to deride the Prophet, and it is offensive to do so to Jesus Christ and other religious figures,' he said ...

I'm just going to pose a couple of questions for you to consider.

How many of the above persons - Father John-Paul Tan, Thio Li-Ann, Ridzuan Wu etc - do you think actually saw the cartoons, before they commented?

If they had not even seen the cartoons in question, how much weight should you give to their views?

Next, let's look at this Business Times article about an Indian spiritual teacher who recently visited Singapore:

Business Times - 17 Jun 2006
Master of the art of living
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder and head of the Art of Living Foundation, explains to VIKRAM KHANNA why he believes there is nothing inconsistent between business and spirituality.

ON THE evening of April 15, the cavernous sixth-floor auditorium at Suntec City was packed to capacity. The crowd numbered a couple of thousand at least - grey-haired grandparents, teenagers, young married couples with babes in arms, people of multiple ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. They had come for the same reason: to spend an evening in the company of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Some consider him their spiritual guru. Others see him as a teacher of high wisdom. Still others came out of sheer curiosity. Revered by millions around the world - including some heads of government - photographed with luminaries like the Dalai Lama, US President George Bush and Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, written about and interviewed extensively, this diminutive 50-year-old is a phenomenon. He has commanded crowds of, literally, millions of people (as during his foundation's 25th anniversary in Bangalore in February, for which three million turned up). He has addressed parliaments and even the UN General Assembly and appeared on countless talk shows.

Many people know him best for the easy-to-follow system of breathing exercises called 'sudarshan kriya' (loosely translated as 'proper vision practice') that he has developed and packaged. At least a million people around the world are believed to practise them, and many swear to have benefited dramatically. Medical studies have demonstrated that the exercises do indeed reduce physical and mental stress.

Less well known is the fact that Sri Sri is the founder and head of what is said to be the biggest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the world, the Art of Living Foundation. Started in 1982 and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, it has spread to 144 countries. It offers stress relief programmes and is involved in thousands of charitable public service projects in areas as diverse as reforming and rehabilitating prison inmates, training villagers in management skills, promoting organic farming, providing trauma relief to victims of natural disasters, helping people with Aids and even resolving national conflicts.

Brief note - Sri Sri, however, has also been described as a cult leader. See for example this article: Catholics Concerned over Cult Leader Appearing at Canada's Foremost Catholic Shrine. Back to the BT article:

But back to the event at Suntec. Sri Sri, as he is commonly referred to, is seated on an ornate chair on a stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures. The evening begins with a lion dance, followed by a performance on the quzheng, a Chinese harp. An Indian flute trio comes next, and then a Malay orchestra and chorus.

After the music and applause die down, Sri Sri smiles, stands up and walks slowly towards the audience. 'When sound is in harmony, it is music, otherwise it is noise,' he says. 'It is the same with the body, mind and spirit ....'

For the purposes of this post, I wanted to draw your attention to this:
".... stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures.

I'm going to ask you to consider this scenario. Imagine that Mr Wang is a Catholic. Mr Wang reads this BT article. Mr Wang is horrified and deeply offended that at a public event in Singapore, images of Jesus have been juxtaposed with images of religious figures from other religions.

"These are all false idols!" cries Mr Wang. "How can they place Jesus together with these false idols!" (After all, in Christianity there is only one true God, and the rest are false idols - don't accuse me of being seditious now, I'm just telling you what the Bible says).

Being a good Catholic, Mr Wang immediately picks up the phone and calls the police to say, "I demand that you impound Sri Sri's passport and investigate him for deeply offensive offences under the Sedition Act!". And the dutiful police proceed to do so.

Think about it. Is this a possible scenario? Of course. What could happen next? I leave it to your imagination. Play out the permutations. Make them dramatic - since we're all just imagining.

Imagine bewildered Sri Sri followers; angry Hindus (how come their deity is "false"?); offended Catholics; offended Buddhists ("what's so wrong about putting up a picture of the Buddha?"); and Falungong followers going, "See? See? The Singapore authorities are crazy! Even breathing exercises are not allowed!"

Then ask yourself - did things really work out better for Singapore ... because Mr Wang made that phone call to the police? And whatever your answer may be - isn't that the kind of society that we now seem to be drifting towards?

I'll let Sri Sri have the last word:

'We need to look at life with a broader vision. When we adopt this broader vision and perspective, our attitude changes. When a person looks at things in a holistic way, the greed in the person dissipates and compassion rises, and ethics becomes a way of life." - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as quoted in the Business Times.


Anonymous said...

Thank god for blogs like this. And thank goodness that someone from ST reads/monitors this blog.

It may be a childish, ill-thought response from ST and its referees, and perhaps a lousy excuse for a conversation, but it's a start.

Maybe it will be a long time before the press writes more intelligently. But perhaps it won't take that long before we, the public abandons the press as a source of fair comment, opinion or information.

Anonymous said...

The kind of society we seem to be drifting towards...1984 and A Brave New World should be required reading in all schools :(

Doesn't it scare anyone else that our government can haul anyone up on sedition charges and entrap its own citizens and nobody seems able to do anything about it?

Makes me wonder who my voice really belongs to sometimes.

Anonymous said...

"Many shared the view of blogger 'Mr Wang', a Singapore lawyer in his 30s."

Lao Wang, why must they obsess over how old you are? Was it to show stark contrast with supposedly 21 year old blogger who could have known better? Are older bloggers really more responsible? Next time you tell me hor.

locky2ky said...

wow, now you also in the "report to the police" game, ah?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you're a genius. I'm most impressed by the way you see the connections between apparently separate matters (Char's case and Sri Sri) and point out all these hidden relationships. Very insightful & thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

all these seditious cases that the authority go after with zest is getting tiring.

and you are right, do we really need the police to sort this out?? maybe the police has nothing much to do ..... election over, dont have cctv footage to analyse.

Anonymous said...

I have recently become addicted to your blogs. Great insights! Glad that you aren't one of the 'stomp-ers', you're definitely of a different league. Keep up the good work.

PanzerGrenadier said...

Again the Singapore Police Force is trapped by the bureaucracy that makes them follow-up on a dispute between two young people (fundy vs anti-fundy) who ought to know better.

Perhaps Police resources could be better applied to go after the murders/deaths of foreigners that seem to be contributing to the apparent spiral in murder-death-kill cases?

Why oh why are we wasting tax payers funds to "police the internet"?

Anonymous said...

Yea man, the Bibble is a seditious item and should be banned, banned!! How dare it say my God is false!! Same goes for the Qur'an huh? Yea, and the Torah as well! As well as all books that champion evolution!

Anonymous said...

Give our law enforcers a break! Even they have to earn their annual bonuses! Nabbing drug users get them one mth bonus. Nabbing GAY drug users get 2mths. Nabbing gay drug users who are studying medicine get 3mths. Nabbing seditious gay drug users who are studying medicine? Priceless. Sets them up for retirement.. like that cocksuckin De Souza.

Anthony said...

The quote by Prof Thio Li Ann sounds a little fishy somehow. I -know- Prof Thio has a reputation from being from a staunchly Christian family. This is, however, also the person that defended Colin Chan, a Jehovah's Witness.

I'm a bit suprised to find that Thio Li Ann would be so...er...supportive of criminalizing certain acts.

Anonymous said...

So many crazy wars and violence sparked in the name of religion.. all at the expense of Atheists and the innocent who just want to lead a normal and hatred-free life!


Anonymous said...

If u ask me I would say the new evangalist chirstians have been undermining religious harmony for at least 10yrs now.

They have been gg around S'pore spreading the words of their gods while insisting other gods are juz idols and false. Some even say that worshipping other gods is juz like whorshipping Satan.

So who are the seditious ones here?

Anonymous said...

Why is it in BT and not ST life?

Anonymous said...

This is why freedom of speech must be absolute. We can not rely on the gov to apply laws that are subjective in nature.

By the way, does Mr. Wang still agree with his post of September 2005 regarding the Case of the Seditious Bloggers:

...when you too are charged under the Sedition Act, Mr Wang will clap his hands in glee. You deserve it.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Oh yes, I agree.

For me, the distinction lies really in the contents of the allegedly offensive message/post/cartoon etc. I would not say that the law should never get involved no matter what the person has posted / said; my concern, however, is that Singapore may evolve into a kind of society where it becomes remarkably easy, far too easy, for any religious believer to inflict a police investigation on anyone else who has stepped on the religious believer's toes.

Naturally, there is subjectivity in the difficult question of whether a particular post is or is not sufficiently offensive to merit criminal proceedings; nevertheless the existence of this subjectivity should not mean that we should therefore initiate criminal proceedings in EVERY case, no matter how small the degree of offensiveness in that particular post.

Finally I would argue that the decision to invoke the law should take into consideration the actual amount of "harm" caused. The argument would proceed as follows - if a low-profile blog with almost zero readership has very offensive material, why bother? If almost no one reads it, then almost no one would be offended. If the solitary person who reads it then files a report, I would say that the police shouldn't bother to investigate this seriously. It is a waste of public resources.

Anonymous said...

Thio Li Ann is mentioned in some of Yawningbread's older posts. She is a certified deadwood and useful only for her unthinking pro-establishment views.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Actually she isn't. She just sounds like it in the present post. But she's no lappy dog of the PAP.

Over here, you can find a link to a post which compares Thio Li Ann's views with Tan Sai Siong's views on the topic of the Elected Presidency, and you will find that Thio and Tan differ sharply.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

How does a society measure the harm caused? Do the police proceed if a blog has one reader? Two readers? More? How do we know if all readers were offended? How offended were the readers? Is a rascist comment more or less offensive then a religious one?

How can these questions be answered in such a way that the law is applied fairly and not used to silence views that are contrary to those in the position of authority? There is no way.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't it be better if a society bans all forms of justification for violent behaviour towards another, whether sanctioned or justified by religion, race or cartoons.

must we always have laws to stipulate and enforcers to measure how much non-bodily harm is acceptable? can insults lead to damage so irreparable, civilized society must demand mutual respect from different groups even if superficial?

we already have an arena where all forms of taunting, insults and aggressive non-physical behaviour are allowed. we even allow proxies from opposing sides to fight it out within rules that tries to prevent physical injury to individuals from either sides.

let different people championing different beliefs fight it out in a world cup of races and religions. let them scream, shout and let out steam.

in societies where limited resources meant that not all could be fed and survive, race, religion and nationality once provided the justification for the elimination or enslavery of others.

surely, no religion should be allowed to say it's ok to kill or maim in the name of God in our society. and if that's so, wat's the whole point of the seditious act?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The short answer is that the decision whether or not to initiate criminal legal proceedings will simply be made by a certain group of people in the system known as the DPPs. And I was formerly one of them.

Oh and as a matter of our daily work, we regularly deal(t) with much more difficult cases than this. Eg how to deal with a killer, who killed his terminally-ill sister, at her request, so as to end her suffering. Murder? Or just drop the case completely? Or something in between.

The fact that subjective judgment calls would need to be made does not mean that the better alternative would be to:

(a) take action in every case; or

(b) never take action at all in any case whatsoever.

As for the initiation of police investigation, that is not normally within the purview of DPPs. Instead that is up to the police. What seems to be happening now (and I do not assert this with certainty) is that the police very readily investigate any matter where someone calls up alleging some seditious offence. I think this may not be a healthy development.

In contrast - and you may not know this - if you have ever been a victim of other kinds of offence:

(minor molest? stolen handphone? neighbour hit you? husband threatened you with violence? car vandalised?)

you may be very disappointed to discover that the police may not be very keen to investigate the case. They simply are too busy. They will often tell you to take out a private lawsuit; or they will tell you that your matter is very minor; or they let you make a police report, then chuck it into the file and do almost nothing.

This in itself is not intended by myself as a criticism of the police force. If resources are stretched, it is indeed the correct thing to do to prioritise the most serious offences and put the rest on hold indefinitely.

We would hope, however, that resources are indeed being diverted to the most deserving cases - and not necessarily to every phone call where the caller says he's seen something on the Internet which he finds offensive to his race, religion or other class of society that he belongs to.

I do not know whether you are aware of this case -


... and the police response as reported in the media. This is an outright crime, in a public place, organised, premeditated violence; and there is extremely clear evidence that the crime did occur (event was caught on video);

and the police response was: "Oh, we will respond if someone makes a police report."

In other words, if the victim doesn't come forward to report (due to fear etc), the police won't bother to investigate.

That makes you wonder, doesn't it - whether the police is focusing its resources on the most appropriate cases. Maybe they're too busy answering phone calls from offended Internet surfers.

Anonymous said...

I am not a lawyer.

I am curious as to why the police did not investigate the case of the teenage girls.

It's all over the net, complete with videos and all and that's not considered "being reported".

So, the victim must personally lodge a report to the police even if he is dead?

Hmm .... it must be a good life to be a policeman in singapore :)

Or I think the police must be shorthanded - too many are being deployed for entrapment cases and not enough to seek out those that really comit crimes.

Anonymous said...

(((('The right to free speech stops when it begins to hurt the religious sensitivities of others,' said Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Church of St Mary of the Angels in Bukit Batok.))))

There have been countless reports of Christians proselytisers:
1. knocking on doors attempting to "share their good news" and when rebuffed, made statements against other religions - Taoists, Muslims, even at Catholics too!
2. preaching and seeking to convert members of the public at East Coast Park (I personally met some very "passionate" crusaders trying to talk to Muslims the very same weekend after 9-11)
Wonder: what do these Christian parish priests have to say about that?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi Police/MICA/MHA:

Please note that Mr Wang neither endorses nor agrees with exzxt's views, especially this part:

"Muslims constantly show total disrespect to other religions even though "shown that" their religion is false" ...

However, in support of the freedom of speech, and of the idea that even those who spout rubbish should have some right to spout it,
I shall permit exzxt's comment to remain for now, but if you wish me to delete his comment, please kindly drop me an email to this effect.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The above post by exzxt clearly shows the nonsensical, unreasonable and seditious comments made by a significant portion of Christians against other religions. Please, those in the name of Christ, keep you own house in order (which is in a total mess) before you interfere in others' businesses.

Anonymous said...

How enlightening, coming from a Christian.

But, it's boring to only hear of Muslims and Christians' sensitivities being violated.

I recommend hearing Lucky Tan's views of a non-believer. Believe me, he's deeply hurt too.


Anonymous said...

This is one of those things ... if you can't see it for yourself, no one can show it to you. Most terrorisrs are like you, exztvt; they also believe wholeheartedly that they are right.

Anonymous said...

There are no truths in religions, just beliefs and faiths.

The more one fights over them, the more it shows how little you have of them.

Anonymous said...

none of us need or want your sympathy. you can have it back.