June 15, 2006

Local Blogger Blasphemes the Prophet Jesus (saws)

As my readers may or may not know, it is illegal here in Singapore, under the Sedition Act, to post inflammatory comments (including cartoons) on the Internet "...which may cause feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore." I blogged about this several months ago (Islamophobia = Sedition), partly in response to the Danish cartoons scandal. Singapore, as I noted in another blog post (Heroes and Hypocrites) would never have allowed the offending cartoons to be published in the first place (nor were they ever published here).

Prior to the Danish cartoon scandal, three young Chinese men were charged last year with making seditious and inflammatory racist comments on the Internet against the Malay/Muslim community. All three pled guilty. Now we have a new case. In a Straits Times article that made the front page of the paper Wednesday (14 June), another young man is being investigated for publishing inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Jesus (saws). An excerpt from the article:

A 21-year-old accounts assistant is being investigated for allegedly flouting the Sedition Act by publishing pictures on his blog that were thought to depict Jesus Christ in an offensive manner. The blogger, who used the online moniker Char, had found the cartoons on the Internet and began posting them in January. He told The Straits Times last week that he was called in by the police for questioning in March, after they received a complaint. Yesterday, the police confirmed they are investigating the matter but declined to give details as "investigations are still ongoing."

News of the investigation was announced online by Char himself last week when he sent an e-mail to a mailing list of more than 300 young Singaporeans. He told them of his experience and how it came about. He removed the cartoons from his blog after he was questioned.

Describing himself as a free thinker, he said he had posted a cartoon that depicted Jesus as a zombie biting a boy's head in January. The following month, he received an online message asking him to remove the image. It came amid the global furore over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by several newspapers. Char did not reply to the message but chose to irk the person instead. He searched the Internet for more pictures depicting Jesus and published three of them on his blog. Looking back, he felt he made an "unwise" move. "I never thought anyone would complain to the police because the pictures were not insidious," he said.

The good news (from my perspective) is that I don't think "Char" is either Muslim or Malay (Update: he's neither). I don't think this was a case of a Muslim trying to get back at Christians for the Danish cartoons fiasco. But I do support Singapore's use of the Sedition Act against Char; Muslims and Christians shouldn't have to put up with derogatory comments and cartoons that blaspheme their faiths. My only question now is, assuming Char either pleads or is found guilty, how he would be sentenced. The maximum penalty for this crime is jail for up to three years or a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. None of the three men who pled guilty last year had sentences that were remotely close to the maximum penalty; however, the judge at that time also said that future sentences would be stiffer should similar offences occur. We shall see, insha'allah.

Update: Since I wrote this post, I've gained a little bit of local notariety. Friday evening, I was interviewed on the phone by a reporter from The Straits Times (the largest newspaper in S'pore). The reporter was working on a follow-up article to the Wednesday article, and a brief excerpt from my post was published in the Sunday (18 June) paper:

There were several netizens who also backed tough action. One was a Muslim American management lecturer based here, known online as "JD".

Said the 44-year-old: "I support Singapore's use of the Sedition Act. People shouldn't have to put up with derogatory comments and cartoons that blaspheme their faiths."

-- "Divided Views Over Police Checks on Blogger," p. 11

(I'm also happy to say that, in this latest article, my position as expressed above was similar to the thoughts of Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Church of St. Mary of the Angels, Anglican Bishop and vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore John Tew, and chairman of the Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies Ridzuan Wu, all of whom were also interviewed for the follow-up article.)

Then, this morning I was contacted by another person for the Straits Times, who asked if I minded being listed for the "Blogs of the Week" column (specifically about this post) in next Wednesday's "Digital Times," a weekly supplement to the Straits Times that focuses on IT, blogging, computer games, etc. Of course I said "yes," so we'll see how things go from here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You were right when you wrote on my post that we probably don't agree entirely about issues surrounding free speech. As you've said, though, people shouldn't have to put up with derogatory comments and cartoons that blaspheme their faiths.

I agree that they shouldn't have to, but I also realize that they do. I feel that it is ultimately more dangerous to attempt to control what people can say - and to punish them for it - considering how slippery that slope can be, than to just let them do what they will and allow society to create its own backlash indicating what is and what is not acceptable.

Fortunately, you and I, I believe, both agree that it's okay to disagree with one another about certain beliefs and values while living our lives happily and in the same society (whether local or global). Then again, neither of us are making offensive cartoons :)