Reflections on Police Investigation of Blogger Char for Sedition
The Straits Times reported on this story last week where this "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."
My basic stance is towards moderation and tolerance for all religions and nobody should belittle anybody's religion, either out of malice or discrimination (I am a Buddhist btw). That is a tenet which i live by. However, at the same time, i am secretly pleased with the blogger community's strong support for 'Char'. There are very compelling and valid reasons being spoken out in his defence and i agree with most of them.
Is there a contradiction here? No, because of my moderate stance, in fact, i have a very open mind about such matters and satirical cartoons, free religious discussions, will not bother me. If you were to tell me now that a monk has committed cardinal sins, i will really lambast him instead of covering him up. Or even if someone were to write an article about, say the 'unclean' life of Buddha before he attained Nirvana, i will just read it with an open mind and if this is absolute nonsense, i will not be agitated but just ignore it.
The internet has a lot of such garbage but at the same time, also rare insights into the workings of certain cults, which a lot of people will not have access to if not for the internet, so it is really up to the readers to judge the merits for themselves.
Back to Blogger 'Char'. To be frank, i wasn't happy that the police has gotten involved in this case. Yes, Char's actions may be wrong, irresponsible, insensitve, or whatever, but leave it to the internet community to put it right rather than the use of prosecution.
Right now, Char's case is a situation where a person or a minority group with certain agenda can launch a complaint against anybody and get him/her into trouble with the law. Justice and taxpayers' resources can be misused easily and there is no way of stopping such abuse at the moment. There are more offensive cartoons on the net which can be accessed with just a search, so why isn't the person who lodged the complaint against Char also complaining about these pictures? By the way, Char's blog wasn't that popular or influential a blog in the first place so the heavy-handed manner in which he is being dealt with is really disproportionate to the crime.
There is always a danger when it comes to comments on religions or races that an innocuous remark can be taken out of context, interpreted wrongly and becomes inflammatory. The government may want to prevent a small incident from becoming serious before it intervenes but somehow, I just got a nagging doubt of whether this could be the government's warning shot to the online community to toe the line.
If we are to prosecute people for posting religious content with the slightest twinge of impropriety or because one person is offended, what kind of message are we sending to the world? We will be moving towards a fundamentalist and intolerant society which will unravel the good work which had been achieved over the years. Bigotry will be tempted to rear its ugly head by the government's actions.
We should in fact give ourselves a pat on the back when religious pictures or comments which cause temperatures to rise in other parts of the world do not cause as much as a ripple in our society. If the day comes when our citizens take to the streets to protest over a satirical picture, then the government is in trouble. We should not cultivate 'sensitive' citizens as it is the first step towards intolerance and social unrest whenever religious topics are brought up.
The movie Da Vinci Code, controversial as it is, has not caused widespread mayhem but one will imagine the author being sentenced to life in Singapore's case. Instead of sensationalising these issues, desensitize is the word when it comes to religious issues. Only when there is a very serious case of malice or sedition, does the prosecution moves in. For a secular nation to prosecute its people for very mild religious jokes does seem out of place and not befitting with our global image.
I also find it an irony that the government just came up with an initiative a couple of days ago to speed up the IT development in Singapore. If the desire is to get more people connected to the net, then you will also have to be prepared for more internet activities and comments, so a change in mindset is required. Regardless of the importance or triviality of the matter, if police investigations can be called in at any time to settle personal online vendettas, then the system is going to be overwhelmed.
As this case is not cast in stone yet, investigations are still ongoing and neither have most of us seen the pictures for ourselves, we just got to wait and see what will happen...