A popular Singaporean online cartoonist was recently arrested by the police and investigated for offences committed under the Sedition Act for “a series of racially insensitive cartoons which are circulating online”. The cartoonist is Mr Leslie Chew, creator of the comic series Demon-cratic Singapore. Mr Chew was arrested after a member of the public made a police report against him.

Demon-cratic Singapore
Leslie Tan is the creator of Demon-cratic Singapore, a series of cartoons posted on Facebook that comments on the political developments in the country of Demon-cratic Singapore. A disclaimer states that Demon-cratic Singapore is a fictional country that is referred to Singapore for short, and that it is “a totally fictional comic with entirely fictional characters based on wholly fictional events in a fictional country”.

demoncratic singapore.png
The Facebook page of Demon-cratic Singapore. Note the use of disclaimers.

This arrest for alleged seditious activity is not Mr Tan’s first encounter with the law. Earlier in 2012, the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) sent Mr Tan a letter arguing that his cartoon titled, “Demon-cratic Singapore Episode #438, Eliminating the thorn first…”, scandalises the Courts through “allegations and imputations that are scurrilous and false”. The AGC also demanded that Mr Tan apologise on his page, take down the cartoon and any related comments.

However, Mr Tan did not comply with the demands by AGC, and no further action was taken against him for that episode.[1]

In the latest case, Mr Tan was accused of seditious remarks in his cartoon discussing race and population in Singapore. The cartoon depicts a politician praising Indian, Chinese and Caucasian talents, and one character in the cartoon says, “What, no mention of Malay talents?” Another character then remarks, “Damn! Racist government”.[2]

What is the Sedition Act?
The Sedition Act is a law in Singapore that aims to prevent “discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore”, and also to avoid “disaffection against the Government”. Offenders of the Act can be fined up to $5000, and jailed for up to 3 years.[3]

In 2005, three Singaporean bloggers were charged by the courts under the Sedition Act and punished accordingly, the first time that the law was used in almost 40 years. Subsequently, the law was not used to prosecute any individuals, but police warnings were still issued to some netizens.

While many activists contend that the Sedition Act stifles political dissent, the government maintains that the Act is still required to maintain social harmony in a diverse society like Singapore.[4]

Mr Tan was arrested and then released on bail after assisting with investigations. He is expected to know if he will be charged on 11 May 2013.[5]

Commenting on the episode, Mr Michael Ng, co-founder of Organisation of Illustrators Council, a network for local illustrators, said that “Cartoons are a means of expression, and while inciting racial hatred is not right, we always treasure and would love if a bit more creative freedom could be extended to artists and illustrators”.[6]

Thinking questions
  1. Should artists and cartoonists be granted more freedom from the Sedition Act and other related laws when crafting their work? Why?
  2. Does the use of disclaimers absolve the artist of any legal blame for his works? Why?

[1] S’pore cartoonist arrested for alleged sedition
[2] Singapore cartoonist arrested for sedition: lawyer
[3] Sedition Act (CHAPTER 290)
[4] Singapore Probes Cartoonist for Alleged Racial Insensitivity
[5] Cartoonist to know if he is to be charged with sedition on May 11
[6] Cartoonist under probe for 'racially insensitive' works