Two men arrested under the Sedition Act for posting comments against Muslims and Malays on Internet blogs
The Straits Times
Saturday, October 8, 2005
By Chong Chee Kin
The two young men who posted inflammatory racist and vicious remarks about Muslims and Malays on the Internet were given landmark jail sentences yesterday.
Animal shelter assistant Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, was convicted of two charges under the Sedition Act and jailed for one month.
Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, an assistant marketing manager, was convicted of one charge under the Act and given a 'nominal' jail term of one day and fined the maximum of $5,000.
Both pleaded guilty to all charges.
Senior District Judge Richard Magnus noted that the remarks posted by Koh were 'particularly vile'.
In imposing sentence, the judge reached back into the past and also noted current terrorism fears to point out the need for 'especial sensitivity of racial and religious issues in our multi-cultural society'.
Using the 1964 race riots to make a point, he said: 'Young Singaporeans, like the accused persons before this Court, may have short memories that race and religion are sensitive issues.
'They must realise that callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects have the potential to cause social disorder, in whatever medium or forum they are expressed.'
He added that it is every Singaporean's duty to respect other races and religions.
This is 'only appropriate social behaviour, independent of any legal duty, of every Singapore citizen and resident', he said.
This is the basic ground rule of living here, he said, and the Sedition Act was meant to draw a 'red line on the ground' against such behaviour. Crossing this line harms not just a racial group, but the very fabric of society, and this was why a deterrent sentence was needed.
The case, which became a major talking point and even drew comments from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month, is being seen as a watershed moment in the arena of Internet expression.
It was sparked by a letter to The Straits Times from Madam Zuraimah Mohammed, who asked if cab companies allow uncaged pets to be transported in taxis, after she saw a dog on a taxi seat.
She was concerned because many Muslims in Singapore are forbidden by their faith to come into contact with a dog's saliva.
In response, Koh posted 'highly inflammatory' remarks on his blog, or online journal.
'He spewed vulgarities at the Muslim Malay community, derided and mocked their customs and beliefs and profaned their religion,' Deputy Public Prosecutor Amarjit Singh said.
One comment compared the Muslim religion to Satanism, while others were so extreme they cannot be printed.
Lim posted similar, but less extreme, comments on an online dog lovers' forum.
'He (Lim) derided the practices of their faith, preached intolerance of their beliefs and used highly insulting words against their community,' DPP Singh said.
He stressed that the prosecution was not trying to police and regulate the Internet, but certain basic rules had to be followed to maintain order in Singapore's multi-ethnic society.
After noting that both Koh and Lim had taken action to reduce the offensiveness of their acts by posting apologies on the Internet and in court, the judge closed with a stern warning.
'Bloggers who still have similar offending remarks are well advised to remove them immediately,' he said. 'The Court will not hesitate to impose... stiffer sentences in future cases.'