13 September 2005

TODAY on the Seditious Bloggers

For your reading pleasure - TODAY's report on the sedition case is reproduced below.

Mr Wang just wishes to point out to his readers is that this stage of criminal proceedings (the accused persons being charged) is quite procedural. The judge will not go into the details of the case yet, and neither will the prosecution.

So it is not as if the authorities are hiding the details of the alleged offence from the public. It is simply that the time has not come for all the details to be made public. That time will come later.

At the present stage, the key idea is that the prosecution, by formally charging the accused in court, is telling the accused clearly what he is being charged for. This is in fairness to the accused. The accused will then be given time (usually a few weeks) to engage a lawyer and decide whether he will plead guilty, or defend himself in court.

The so-called "charge" is just a one-paragraph document providing brief but specific particulars of the offence that the prosecution thinks that the accused has committed. And there is only so much information that can be crammed into one paragraph.

Full details of the case (for example, complete details of what the accused person wrote in his blog or the forum) will only emerge in court at the time the accused pleads guilty or, if he chooses to go to trial, at the time of the trial itself. In either scenario, the proceedings will be conducted in open court, which means that any member of the public can walk in and witness the proceedings.

Aren't you bloggers so lucky that Mr Wang is around to explain all these things to you? Three cheers to Mr Wang!

Net closes in on blogs of hate

Two charged over online racist rants; other Netizens may watch their words

Tuesday • September 13, 2005

Ansley Ng

BLOGGERS have become used to letting off steam, while invective in Internet forums is nothing new. Yesterday, however, the online community received a little reminder that real laws still apply in the virtual world as two men were charged in court for taking their racist outpourings too far.

Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, and Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act.

Investigations into the case, which has created a buzz among bloggers, began after someone called the police hotline at 3am on June 19 to complain that Koh's blog on www.upsaid.com "discussed topics that would disrupt racial harmony".

Inquiries into that complaint led the police to postings on an online pet forum, www.doggiesite.com, where Lim, a marketing executive, apparently made his own brand of racist remarks. The two men are believed to know each other.

Koh faces three charges while Lim faces two for remarks made between June 12 and June 17 this year. If convicted, they could be fined up to $5,000 per charge or jailed up to three years, or both.

According to court documents, Lim's forum message began with: "The masses are idiots. 'Nuff said". He went on to make disparaging remarks about Muslims.

Then, turning his attention to the Chinese and Indians, he wrote that listening to the complaints of "Chinese and Indians ... was no less irritating".

Koh was more pointed. Peppering his blog entry with vulgarities, he directed his tirade at Malays and Muslims. His blog had a picture of a roasted pig's head with "a Halal look-alike logo", according to court documents.

The two men, who attempted to evade the media as they left the court, are out on bail of $10,000 each. They will return to court on Sept 21.

Meanwhile, the case is likely to have a temporary "chilling effect" on the Internet community, said lawyers and media academics.

"Everyone will definitely become more careful about what they say," lawyer Siew Kum Hong, himself a former blogger, told Today. "Blogging is no different from other forms of speech in everyday life."

The same rules that apply to newspaper writers and at the Speakers' Corner also apply to bloggers, he said.

"Whether they create a riot or not, the very act of saying those words or publishing them becomes an offence." Someone who was overheard making racist remarks might also be charged under the Act, he added.

"But they (the police) won't set aside resources to deal with that sort of situation, unless there are special circumstances, or if it was a high-impact case involving public Internet postings," said Mr Siew.

Agreeing, Dr Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University, said someone could "technically" be charged if a racist remark was overhead and reported to the authorities.

"(But) only when the audience size is large enough will the impact of the statement be meaningful," said Dr Ang.

"Many bloggers do not know the law, unlike trained journalists. People assume there is a cloak of secrecy. But you can still track people down.

"There are a lot of remarks out there (on the Internet) that are defamatory, inflammatory racist remarks.

"These are not taken seriously in many parts of the world," said Dr Ang. "They are seen as rants and people usually ignore them.

"Singapore is an unusual case."

While Lim used a "measured tone" in his remarks, Koh's sounded like the "rantings of a madman", Dr Ang noted.

"It has never been a right to defame people, and never a right to make racial remarks. People will be upset."

Blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as mrbrown, told Today: "A vast majority of bloggers here don't go into race or religion ... we have other things to write about.

"Besides, there are other ways of discussing race or religion that will not get you into trouble with the law."


xenoboysg said...

Ahaha. It is always a privilege to get some real legal advice for free as compared to lawyers approached by the media.

That the content of the two accused is racist and inflammatory is probably a foregone conclusion. I am fairly sure that the AGC will not bring this to the Courts if they had no strong case.

Which again begs the question, why Sedition Act : there are probably lighter provisions in the Penal Code for instance, to deal with cases disrupting social harmony or even a public nuisance.

The choice of SA then is deliberate. And the rest is history.

PS : Good luck with your book Mr Wang!

Anthony said...

Good lords. The audacity of the media to proclaim themselves "well versed in the law".

What are they going to proclaim themselves next? Guardians of public morality?

Oh wait....

Elia Diodati said...

Seconding Xenoboysg. Don't forget to send me a review copy :)

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