12 September 2005

Two Bloggers Charged under Sedition Act Over Racist Remarks

Goodness. This is rare. I don't think I ever came across a single case under the Sedition Act when I was working as a Deputy Public Prosecutor. I don't even recall ever looking into the Sedition Act.

Does anyone know which blogs and which web forum are being referred to in the Channel NewsAsia article below? And what was the nature of the racist remarks? How do they compare to the racist remarks made by you-know-which PSC scholar in his own blog?

For the first time in Singapore, two bloggers have been charged under the Sedition Act with making racist remarks. Twenty-five-year-old Nicholas Lim Yew faces two charges and 27-year-old Benjamin Koh Song Huat faces three.

A subordinate court was told that both their blogs had racist content, which sparked off a heated discussion online.

The charges read that Lim had, on 16 and 17 June 2005, posted racist remarks on a web forum. Koh was alleged to have done the same on 12, 15 and 17 June on another website.

In doing so, they are alleged to have committed an act which had a seditious tendency. This is defined as promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races of the population of Singapore.

Both men are out on bail of S$10,000 each. The case is expected be heard again on September 21.

A person is deemed to have committed an offence under the Sedition Act if he performs any act which has a seditious tendency, or conspires with any person to do so. It is also an offence to utter any seditious words or to print, publish, sell, distribute, reproduce or import any seditious publication.

First time offenders can be fined up to S$5,000, or jailed up to three years, or both. For subsequent offences, they can be jailed up to five years and have their seditious publications forfeited and destroyed. - CNA /ct/ls


This event has also been noted on Blog Timeline.SG, which tracks the history of the Singapore blogosphere. (I am a dutiful member of the blog, hence I help to publicise and promote it).


lzyData said...

Singabloodypore has archived an older version of the CNA article that mentions the forum, www.doggiesite.com and website/blog provider, www.upsaid.com.

Biased Observer said...

I find it sensationalist to refer to the two as 'bloggers.' Blogs are the medium by which they expressed their views, and I'm not sure what purpose it serves other than to cast aspersions on blogging as a whole.

But maybe I'm reading too much into it.

xenoboysg said...

Mr Wang,

Ahaha. Same question I asked. If I can recall my Sg history, possibly, the last time when the Sedition Act was used was during the shutdown of the newspapers mentioned in Cherian George's paper. If not, I believe it could be back during the Communist times or during the racial riots.

If you google "sedition act singapore", there is an interesting Sg proto-blog entry against a Koh Buck Siong article over the SBA online content regulations which drew upon the phraseology of the Sedition Act.

Why then use the full force of the law and not the regulations?

As for the dispute itself, I was forwarded possibly one? of the offending entries with a tasteless doctored picture by one of the two accused when this dispute was in full storm. There is little dispute there.

But why the SA?

Yes, the heart of the matter.

Han said...

I believe the SA was used because these 2 guys are somehow involved in blogs named 'Second Holocaust' and 'Third Holocaust'. The thing is, these two blogs do not just publish prejudiced or discriminatory views, they actually advocate wholesale ethnic cleansing of a certain ethnic group in Singapore.

I would say what they did is more or less tantamount to an incitement of hate crimes. Personally I feel that it is time that racial discrimination be moved away from being an act of sedition to an offence on its own.

xenoboysg said...

Hi Shianux,

I actually posted a response to Agagooga on the Holocaust blogs theory.

I was forwarded the 'seditious' blog entry sometime before the Holocaust blogs gained prominence. This seems to be very unrelated to the Holocaust blogs. I believe it was a forum flamewar that turned really nasty over a ST forum letter on dogs in cabs.

Which probably means more blog-heads are going to roll ....

chemgen said...

I have no sympathy for the internet racists. If they were the ones behind Second and Third Holocaust, there is retribution and justice after all. One of the racists was from Doggiesite.com and some at Doggiesite remember that someone made racist comments.


So there was actually some hate rhetoric made.

However, whether the Sedition Act is appropriate or not (I have my grave doubts that the dusty Act should be taken out of the shelf in this case), the vital point is that the authorities are showing that racism in the internet is not tolerated. Good. They even seem more hell bent on hunting down racists than those who criticise the regime. Finally, our taxpayers' money is valuably spent on checking hate rhetoric rather than curbing constructive criticism of politics in Singapore. Hopefully the end is nigh for racism and other hate speech in the internet.

j. said...

I agree that the Act may not be entirely suited to the charges in question, but some kind of crackdown was long on the cards.

Perhaps the use of the Sedition Act is an interim measure. Let's hope the court will highlight the need for further legislation in it's judgment, given the spate of recent contentious activity.

Anonymous said...

"the vital point is that the authorities are showing that racism in the internet is not tolerated"

Truely important.

However, taking a broader (and less reassuring) view, perhaps it could also mean that views which are considered to be particularly virulent are not to be tolerated.

For example, this might include Mr Wang's views, your views, my views e.t.c, the views of certain opposition figures.

Perhaps I am over-reading the implications, because the state has yet to take actions against other (potentially virulent) views online.

My first blog and first post on the issue..

The Void Deck said...

Sedition Act? SMLJ? But CNA say 1st timers, it is $5k fine or 3 yrs luxury Hotel Ah Gong stay or both. So while Act damn scary sounding, the penalties not as jialat as tio rotan like in illegal immigrant or molest case. Mr Wang, you know of other types of offences will kena abt $5k fine or 3 yrs zo lao?

Trackback The Void Deck

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Don't be misled by maximum sentences under the law. They are rarely imposed, except in the most severe forms of each particular kind of offence.

For common offences such as simple theft, courts have developed their own "market rates". For example, although the max is three years + fine (no limit specified), the typical market rate for a typical "first-timer" case would be something like (a) fine $5,000, no imprisonment, or (b) imprisonment between one day to oe week.

Although I have not had the time to think about this more thoroughly, my general impression, after reading the TODAY newspaper, is that this was probably a good case to use the Sedition Act.

Apparently one of the chaps had a picture of a roasted pig's head with a Halal look-alike logo. There goes any pretence that he might have been attempting to engage in a serious, sincere discussion about racial or religious issues.

I have no sympathy for hate speech.

I'm not sure what other statute could be appropriate. There is the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, but between MRHA and SA, I see several advantages in using Sedition Act.

Max under SA is $5K or three years imprisonment, but no minimum is specified. In the end, who knows, if these people are convicted, the sentence could be as light as $500.

It is anyone's guess what sentence the judge would impose. This is such an uncommon offence that the judge also would be scratching his head trying to decide what the appropriate sentence should be. He has no "market practice" or precedent cases to use as a benchmark.

Anonymous said...

I have no smypathy for hate speech either,

but why should hate speech which has practically (and arguably) no effect be subject to penalty...

why not let the free marketplace of ideas sort things out? there are many online tools (or/and) could be developed to prevent the repetition of such occurences...

Mr Wang could delete my comments; the police officer could remove the white elephants; we can throw our hands in frustration and ignore the person...

why resort to the law?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Conceivably, I could answer your question with a discourse on how freedom of speech has to come with limits etc etc. But then you already knew all that.

So I offer a different kind of answer. Which gives you an idea of how this case probably proceeded.

1. Someone made a police report about these bloggers.

2. When the police receive a report, they have to investigate. That's their job.

3. When they finish investigating, they have to tell the prosecution. That's their job.

4. When the prosecution is told, it has to decide whether a crime has been committed (a pure legal exercise). That's their job.

5. If the prosecution decides that a crime has been committed, it has to decide what to do next (Drop completely? Ask police to issue warning? Proceed to charge? If so, what kind of charge?). That's their job.

In the present case, the relevant DPP (or DPPs) decided to proceed to charge.

You asked, "Why resort to the law?". The answer is that the DPP is primarily a legal institution. His powers reside within the criminal legal system. The matter has come to him, he needs to deal with it (that's his job), and he can only deal with it in the criminal legal justice way.

The DPP isn't the SBA, or a religious leader, or an ISP, or Blogger, or the forum webhost, or the Presidential Council on Minority Rights. Those institutions would have their own ways of dealing with the situation.

But the DPP has only the DPP ways of dealing with the situation. And the DPP ways of dealing with this situation are either to charge, or not to charge.

DPPs themselves are a bunch of people with differing views. Given the same case, one DPP may decide to proceed; another DPP may not. Individual views and opinions do play a role (see for example the District Attorney in the TV show "The Practice"). There ARE mechanisms within the AGC which seek to prevent individual DPPs' peculiar idiosyncrasies from playing an unduly large role. But by and large, individual DPPs' views and opinions do play a significant role.

In this case, the file most likely would have come to AGC together with 50 other files. The files would have been randomly assigned to DPPs. The sedition case file came to a particular DPP, who studied it and then decided to proceed.

His decision would have been checked by his superior. However, if AGC is still operating as it used to, then in all likelihood, the superior would accord a significant amount of respect to the DPP's decision. The superior steps in to override only if he thinks that the decision is very wrong or very extreme. If the decision is not very extreme or not very wrong, the superior generally allows the decision to stand, even if the superior himself may feel that the decision was not the best possible decision.

In very unusual cases (this sedition case perhaps qualifies), the decision may be examined at higher levels. It may, for example, be escalated all the way to the Attorney-General himself. However, even the AG himself is just a legal institution. Ultimately he has no non-legal type of measures to utilise. In the end, he either has to proceed to charge, or not. He can't say, "Let's just forget about the legal aspects and just order the bloggers to attend compulsory National Education class for three months." He has no such powers.

Right now, the DPP knows more than you about the case. He has the police file. He has full details of the investigation results. He knows what those bloggers have written exactly. He decided to proceed. It may or may not be the best decision (we wouldn't know), but he does have all the facts he needs to help him in his decision-making process (whereas we don't).

So let's wait and see.

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