Singapore’s State Prosecutor Drops Sedition Charges Against Cartoonist

August 1, 2013
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Sedition charges against Singapore cartoonist Leslie Chew, have been dropped. Back in May, we reported that Chew had been arrested for alleged racial insensitivity and sedition as a result of a complaint about one of his Facebook comic strips called Demon-cratic Singapore.

(c) Leslie Chew

Chun Han Wong writes for The Wall Street Journal‘s Southeast Asia blog, describing the law under which Chew was being investigated:

Singapore law broadly defines sedition as acts agitating against the government and the administration of justice, fostering discontent among citizens, and promoting hostility between ethnic groups. Human-rights groups say the law stifles political dissent, but officials defend its use as essential for maintaining social harmony in multi-ethnic Singapore. Mr. Chew has not been charged.

As a result of the sedition charges being dropped, Chew’s bail will be allowed to lapse and his passport will be returned to him. Unfortunately, Singapore’s state prosecutor plans to proceed with charging Chew with four incidents of contempt of court for cartoons that questioned disparities in convictions and sentencing. Jeanette Tan writes for Yahoo News, highlighting the cartoons which brought these charges:

In the first comic, published on 20 July 2011, Chew featured four separate cases that appeared to accuse Singapore’s judiciary of unfairness — three of which portrayed the court as ruling unfairly in favour of foreigners or against Singaporeans, and the fourth appeared to allude to an instance where current Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling was believed to have posted on her Facebook page in violation of Cooling Off day regulations.

The second, published on 3 January last year, depicted two cases side by side — one showed a celebrity who was sentenced to probation for “beat(ing) someone up”, while the other showed the judge sentencing a national serviceman who went AWOL to five months’ jail. Chew also drew the phrase, “The Kangaroo Court of Singapore” on the wall behind where the judge was seated.

In the third, published two days later, Chew depicted what appeared to be the case of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan’s application to leave Singapore, which was subsequently denied. He also drew in other panels what looked to be the case of former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu, who fled Singapore before finally being charged and sentenced in Romanian court, as well as another “ang mo” (literally translated as “red hair”, but the phrase typically refers to Caucasians) who was charged for an assault on a Singaporean, but was allowed out on $25,000 bail.

In Chew’s fourth comic in question, published on 16 June last year, he appeared to question the disparity in sentences meted out to people committing similar crimes.

Chew did have an opportunity to have one of the contempt of court actions withdrawn if he removed the comic from the internet and apologized for his actions but he refused. His first hearing will be on August 12.

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Eric Margolis is a 3L at St. John’s Law School who wishes to pursue a career in Entertainment / Intellectual Property law.