Singapore seen getting tough on dissent as cartoonist charged

by Reuters
Friday, 26 July 2013 08:22 GMT

By Kevin Lim and Eveline Danubrata

SINGAPORE, July 26 (Reuters) - Singapore government lawyershave started legal proceedings that could result in a politicalcartoonist serving a jail term, in another sign that thelong-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is becoming increasinglyintolerant of opponents, critics said.

Chew Peng Ee, known to followers of his "Demon-craticSingapore" site on Facebook as Leslie Chew, had committedcontempt of court "by scandalising the judiciary of the Republicof Singapore", the Attorney-General's Chambers said in astatement on Thursday.

The charges stemmed from four cartoons that Chew hadpublished in 2011 and 2012, three of which were about theperceived unfairness of the courts when imposing punishment. Hiscase will be heard on Aug. 12.

Chew has already been investigated for sedition for allegingofficial discrimination against Singapore's ethnic Malayminority and is out on police bail, his lawyer said.

There are no prescribed penalties for contempt of court inSingapore and the judge could issue a warning or fine instead ofa jail sentence. For sedition, a person could be fined up toS$5,000 ($3,900) or jailed up to three years, or both.

Prosperous, multi-racial Singapore, a key U.S. ally, haslong taken a tough stand against criticism of the government.Leaders have taken legal action against critics, saying theyneeded to protect their reputations.

The most recent case of a critic being jailed took place in2011 when Alan Shadrake, a British writer, was sentenced to sixweeks in prison for contempt of court and scandalising thejudiciary with a book about the death penalty in Singapore.

Government spokesmen were not immediately available forcomment on the case of the cartoonist.


Singapore recently introduced laws to license news websitesthat report regularly on the city-state, in a move seen by manyas a bid to control the spread of anti-government reports andcommentary via social media.

Such reports and commentaries were believed to havecontributed to gains by the opposition in a general election in2011.

"The PAP government has essentially decided it needs to tamethe blogosphere and social media," said blogger Alex Au.

Au, who uses the nickname Yawning Bread, this week accusedthe government in a blog post of trying to re-create a "climateof fear" to silence critics.

"This change of tack is becoming clearer by the week as moreand more instances arise where ministers and members ofparliament go out to bash citizens trying to raise issues orcomment on current affairs," he said.

Zuraidah Ibrahim, deputy editor of the pro-governmentStraits Times newspaper, wrote in a recent column that clashesbetween the PAP and the opposition Workers' Party had becomemore heated as Singapore reached the middle of the electoralcycle.

Both sides were trying to mobilise supporters ahead ofelections that must be called by 2016, she said.

"There have been criticisms from among the party faithfulthat the PAP has allowed itself to be too much of a punching bagsince the last general election. They want to see their leaderscoming out of the corner swinging."($1 = 1.2663 Singapore dollars) (Reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by Robert Birsel)