Friday, July 14, 2006

So This Is Sedition?

Would this be seditious?The Straits Times reported in March 2006 that a 21-year-old accounting student, known only by his internet handle “Char”, faced possible sedition charges for posting offensive pictures of Jesus on his blog.

Sometime earlier in February, during the height of the Mohamed cartoons furore, "Char" had an online argument with a fundamentalist Christian. The Christian found Char’s blog, which contained the drawing by Jared von Hindeman.

It is open to interpretation if the cartoon is a metaphor for the "corrosive effect of religion upon reasoning", or just a picture of Jesus munching on some kid’s brain, but the Christian decided to find it sufficiently offensive to demand that Char remove it from his blog. Char responded by posting three more Jesus-themed pieces sourced from the Net, and that’s when the police got involved.

Char had his desktop computer and laptop taken away as evidence after he was called in for questioning in March. Three days later, he was asked to report to the Police Cantonment Complex where he was formally arrested and released on police bail, which was extended to four weeks to let him travel to the US. He faced a possible fine of up to $5,000 or a prison term of up to 3 years under the Singapore sedition act.

When he reported to the police on his return in April, he was told his bail had lapsed and that he might be called for further investigation.

On 8 July 2006, Char reported that he got off with a police warning.

Char's story:

Here goes: Three months back (today's the third month anniversary of my case. whee.), I kind of made an enemy online, thanks to a little flaming session. Back then, it was the height of the Jyllands-Posten/Muhammed pictures issue, and following some moronic arguements of his (We'll call this guy FundieP) on Christianity against someone else, I couldn't help but step in, and pretty much publicly humiliated him.

Dumb thing however, was that FundieP knew of my blog, thanks to a sigining off signature generated automatically. And being the fundamentalist Christian he was, he sent me a mail, requesting that an earlier cartoon I had on the blog be removed. [Police annex A, taken from - cartoon of a zombie version of Jesus biting on a little boy's head. Boy is asking "why is my messiah trying to eat my brain?" and line below says "on the third day, Jesus rose from his tomb"]

Well, to those who know me, I'm strongly anti-fundamentalist, so I dumbly didn't reply to that mail, and instead went to search for a couple more pictures to agitate FundieP. Bad idea. [Police annex B, C, D respectively: - picture of licenceplate saying "jesus loves you, everyone else thinks you're an asshole"; - fake CNN image of Jesus on paper; and - edited photo of Last Temptation of Christ, with Jesus looking at a KFC bucket.]

Well, FundieP made a police report. About 2 weeks later, I had the police knocking, got my computer siezed, was arrested and dumped into hotel Cantoment for 3.5 hours, and let out on bail for breaching 4(1)(c)-290 - our beloved sedition act.

[4. —(1) Any person who — (c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years; and any seditious publication found in the possession of that person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.]

6 days before I was due for a three and a half week US trip.

I was pretty much a nervous wreck those few days, I eventually went, although it took 2 of my best friends (and an insanely high US phone bill) to convince me that I would need the trip - my passport wasn't impounded, and the police extended the bail to 4 weeks to let me fly, although I almost wanted to call the flight off.

Switch back to present, and well, I've told the story to only a select few so far, but to be honest (and to sound stupid), I never actually decided to read the entire Sedition Act till today, after 3 months. Sure, I read the earlier portions (about section 1-5, but not the later portion. Yes, berate me on my stupidity, but I was seriously freaked out for that long to not notice article 6.

[Evidence. 6. Cap. 97. (2) No person shall be convicted of any offence referred to in section 4(1)(c) if such person proves that...he did not know and had no reason to believe that the publication had a seditious tendency.]

and, linking back,

[Seditious tendency. 3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency — (e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.]

While Malays and Islam are interwined, it would take a long shot to link Christianity as a dividing issue between races or classes of the population of Singapore.
This is seditious?
For an additional note, the Da Vinci Code would be probably be more seditious, if one goes by the severity of the "evidence" - mildly put, it virtually criminalises Christianity as a conspiracy, and that Christianity itself is illicit (Of course, all monotheist religions claim that all other religions are illicit anyway), plus, its publicity is about a few hundred times more (now showing?) than my now-defunct blog.

(anyway, I called the police today to ask on the case, as well as my computer, and the investigating officer sounded pretty miffed, just telling me that the case was still "under investigation")