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How Ill-Defined Laws Are Used to Shut Down Criticism of the Government


Yesterday State Media mouthpiece Today published a report about a video that went viral showing a man arguing at Bishan MRT that he was being racially profiled by the Transcom police officers. The report said he was Malay and that he wanted to know why he and many other Malays were being stopped and checked while people of different “races” were not.

After a video went viral the police issued a statement saying:

Such allegations are untrue, baseless, irresponsible, and may stir up racial tensions. The Police take a stern view of persons who post remarks online that could cause ill-will and hostility between the different races or communities in Singapore and they will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

The police are presumably referring to the infamous Sedition Act and to Section 3. (1) (e) which says:

(A seditious tendency is a tendency) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

The Sedition Act is an archaic colonial law that has been abolished in the UK and the US but has been retained (like many other colonial relics including flogging for men, the death penalty and the criminalization of male homosexuality) by the PAP Government. It was useful to the British as a colonial-era tool as it could be used against anyone advocating independence. It also outlaws stirring up feelings of disaffection against the Government and the administration of justice.

The PAP have often used it to shut down criticism of the discriminatory treatment of minorities in Singapore. Leslie Chew, the cartoonist, was arrested and detained for several months in 2016 for questioning over alleged sedition before finally being released. He had published a cartoon criticising the Government’s treatment of Malays though this was likely only a pretext for detaining him. The real objective was to silence him and stop his cartoon strip which caricatured Lee Hsien Loong , his dad and other members of his Government. The use of the Sedition Act can be counted a success since after his release Leslie Chew has largely been silent.

The AG also contemplated charging Amos Yee under the Sedition Act though ultimately he was charged with breaching the obscenity laws and Section 298 of the Penal Code which proscribes “wounding racial or religious feelings”. Of course the real reason for his prosecution in this case was that he had dared to poke fun at the self-anointed late “Father of the Nation” during a carefully orchestrated mourning period designed to give the PAP and LHL a landslide victory in the elections. I gave evidence at Amos’s asylum hearing in the US. The US Immigration Judge noted that in the space of the complained-of eight minute video only 30 seconds were taken up by criticism of Christians and most of the rest of the video attacked LKY and the PAP.

The Government now uses the Sedition Act to stifle any criticism of discrimination against minorities, such as unfair allocation of resources in education, inequalities in income or housing, racial profiling in policing or disproportionately harsh sentencing. Government scholars are drawn from the Chinese community in a much higher proportion than their percentage in the population. The make-up of management and boards of Government-owned companies is also overwhelmingly Chinese and “foreign talent”. The Government’s response to any criticism is to shout “meritocracy” and if that fails to threaten critics with prosecution. A few months ago Sangeetha Thanapal, who has been vocal in her criticism of discrimination, was detained at the airport for several hours over her Facebook posts and has now decided to live in Australia.

If anyone was charged under this section of the Sedition Act they could conceivably raise a defence under Section 3. (2)(d) which states:

(Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

So pointing out inequalities in resources or income or discrimination in employment or the administration of justice should not be an offence whatever the Government says. I have frequently commented on these matters in the past and not been prosecuted. However, given the experience of others, the Government has been successful in intimidating Singaporeans and the legislation has had the desired effect. It is helped by gullible or venal Westerners who are ever ready to jump in and praise the Government for its fake diversity and inclusivity , including ex-President Obama.

We need to abolish the Sedition Act and to ensure that there is much more effort to eliminate discrimination against minorities. We should have laws outlawing discrimination like other advanced countries. We also should abolish race from our ICs and the Ethnic Integration Act This list of reforms seems so basic if we are ever to join the ranks of liberal democracies. I have been calling for them for years and they have been part of the Reform Party platform since 2010. The very fact that State Media described the man in the video as a Malay rather than a Singaporean typifies this Government’s long-standing policy of “othering” minorities and particularly the Malays. It could start by apologizing for LKY’s disgustingly racist comments which, instead of being called out for what they were, were treated as words of wisdom by our State Media lackeys and Western governments.

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