SINGAPORE, Oct 7 (Reuters) – Singapore on Friday jailed two men for making racist remarks on the Internet against minority Malays, invoking sedition laws inherited from British colonial rule for the first time since its independence 40 years ago.
Benjamin Koh, 27, was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment while Nicholas Lim, 25, was fined and jailed for a day, both for posting comments on their personal websites, or blogs, attacking the city-state’s mostly-Muslim ethnic Malay community.
The two faced up to three years jail or fines of up to S$5,000 ($2,955) for violating laws under Singapore’s Sedition Act by promoting ill-will and hostility between the city-state’s ethnic communities with their June Internet posts.
In several expletive-laden online posts, Koh and Lim attacked Singapore’s Malay Muslims, who account for 14 percent of the island republic’s population. District Judge Richard Magnus said their imprisonment represented a “sentence of general deterrence” as their offensive comments threatened the “very fabric of Singapore society”.
Lim, who worked in an animal shelter, posted his comments on an Internet forum for dog lovers while participating in a discussion on whether taxi cabs should refuse to carry uncaged pets out of consideration for Muslims, as their religion considers dogs unclean.
Koh, who was given the maximum fine, advocated desecrating Islam’s holy site of Mecca in his online journal.
“The right to propogate an opinion on the Internet is not, and cannot, be an unfettered right,” the judge said in his sentencing.
Singapore has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world, but also some of the toughest media laws.
Police have wide powers to intercept online messages, and Internet service providers are required to block websites containing material that may be a threat to public security, national defence, racial and religious harmony and public morality.
The government has defended these controls as necessary to maintain ethnic harmony among its 4.2 million people, of which about three-quarters are ethnic Chinese. Ethnic Indians make up another eight percent.
I saw this when I opened my internet explorer (Yahoo Singapore is my homepage.) Can’t say I am surprised. Though I personally feel that jailing person for a single day would seems to have little or no deterrent effect on the individual. If he had the temerity to post such racist remarks online, would spending one day in a cell force a mindset change? “Sentence of general deterence”? The government should work on why he would say such things rather than view this as an open and shut case. Its definitely symptomatic of a larger problem, one which will go undetected until it tears the very fabric of our multireligous multiracial society.