Convicted for sedition, blogger insists: ‘I’m no racist’

Ansley Ng
ansley@newstoday.com.sg

BLOGGER Benjamin Koh Song Huat spent his first night in a prison cell on Friday after becoming one of the first persons to be convicted under the Sedition Act.

“It was the first time I had seen that word — sedition,” Koh told Today in an exclusive interview hours before he was sentenced. “I didn’t know what it meant until my lawyer explained it to me.”

But Koh probably came to learn the meaning of “sedition” the hard way. Entries posted on his blog in June and July were peppered with vulgarities and insulted Islam and the Malay culture.

Still, he maintained during a 40-minute phone interview that he was not a racist. He said he has many Malay friends from his days at Swiss Cottage Secondary School. So, when news of his arrest broke, he got calls from one of them.

“They called me, laughed and said: ‘You racist? Come on lah’,” said Koh.

How it started

His ugly online tirade started after a trip to East Coast Park in June when he was walking his dogs and had a run-in with some Malay families, who shy away from dogs on religious grounds.

He went home later that day and “blasted away” on his blog. Then came the Internet community’s reaction.

“People started posting comments and made nasty remarks about me and my parents. I thought it was another blog war and I didn’t really bother,” he said.

“But the comments didn’t stop.”

Eventually realising what he had done, Koh locked his blog a week later to prevent anyone from posting comments and put up an apology. It appeased some — but there were others who were still baying for blood. At the end of June, plainclothes police officers went to his home to question him, after a female Malay blogger complained to the police.

“They asked if I belonged to any anti-Islam organisation,” Koh said. “At that time, I knew I was in big trouble.”

He was taken to the police station for questioning. On his second visit to the station, Koh was arrested, together with his best friend Nicholas Lim Yew, the other person to be convicted under the Sedition Act on Friday.

Unwanted attention

The two have been discussed by Ministers and the media alike. They’ve even joked with each other about their predicament.

“Look, we are even more famous than Xiaxue,” said Koh, referring to one of Singapore’s more prominent bloggers.

But, switching to a serious tone, he said he had not been eating and sleeping well. “Not when the whole of Singapore knows who you are,” said Koh, who added that he was “just a normal person”.

The past few weeks have been spent at his condominium in Katong with his family — his divorcee mother and 23-year-old brother. Koh plans to continue blogging when he is released a month later.

“I am hooked on blogging,” he said.

“I have learnt not to generalise everything and not to shoot my mouth off just like that. That’s a trait a lot of people found endearing and also one that people found irritating.

“I am so deeply sorry and I would not have blogged it down if I had known the consequences.” Ansley Ng
ansley@newstoday.com.sg

This is an interview with Mr Koh from the Today Newspaper. I was listed in Global Voices Online for having commented on the sentences in my previous entry. From a Singapore Angle also provides its usual roundup of blogs including Mr Wang, who provides an in depth analysis on the nature of the sentences.

I guess there’s always a reasonable explanation for his actions. Reading only from his interview with Today, its obvious that he’s not a hardcore racist. It was rather a moment of folly and so-called reaction towards his run-in with some Malay families. But certainly, freedom of expression cannot be left unfettered and uncontrolled without a certain degree of boundaries involved. Though I symphatise with him, one must never post such sentiments online, in any circumstances, if not for harmony but of fear of the strong arm of the law.

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