Singapore Parliament repeals Sedition Act, with other laws in place to deal with issues

FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore
FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Parliament has on Tuesday (5 October) repealed the Sedition Act, a law first introduced in 1948 to curb local opposition to British colonial rule.

In making the case for the law to be repealed, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that key aspects of the Act have not been relevant in modern Singapore for a long time, and the law is hardly being used for prosecution.

“For instance, the excitement of disaffection against the government shouldn’t be criminalised. I think if it is, a lot of people, including many in this house, would be considered criminals," he said in Parliament.

“But it hasn’t been done away with sooner, because some of the other provisions were relevant."

Six persecution since 1965, last used in 2016

While Singapore has had sedition laws since 1938, the current Sedition Act had its roots in the Sedition Ordinance of 1948.

It had sought to criminalise conduct with seditious tendencies, including bringing the government into hatred and contempt and raising discontent or disaffection among the citizens or residents of Singapore, among other things.

Since 1965, the Act has seen six prosecutions and was last used in 2016, in the prosecution of the people behind The Real Singapore website, which had encouraged anti-foreigner sentiments through online posts.

Over time, Singapore has enacted other laws to deal with issues covered by the Act in a more targeted and calibrated manner.

For example, the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act deals with conduct that impugns the integrity and impartiality of judges, and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act makes it a crime to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between the different religious groups.

Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to be amended

However, one aspect of the Sedition Act is currently not in other laws - conduct that promotes ill-will or hostility between groups of people in Singapore.

As such, Shanmugam said that the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code will be amended to cover it. The Bill amends section 267C of the Penal Code, which prohibits the making, possession or dissemination of material containing any incitement of violence against others, counselling others to disobey the law, or which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

The section will be extended to cover other acts, such as speeches and other verbal communications.

The Bill also “raises the threshold” of that section, requiring proof that the person intended for the violence, disobedience to the law or breach of the peace to occur, or knew or had reason to believe that they were likely to occur as a result of his words or actions.

In addition, it defines the phrase “counselling disobedience to the law” to mean providing instruction, advice or information to promote disobedience to the law.

Parts of the Criminal Procedure Code will also be amended so that the deliberate wounding of a person's racial or religious feelings, and publishing of material with the intent to incite one group to commit an offence against another group, become offences liable for arrest.

Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) raised concerns that section 267C of the Penal Code may criminalise people who are merely sharing information about civil disobedience.

However, Shanmugam said a person must have intended for violence, actual civil disobedience or breach of the peace to occur, or have a reason to believe his actions will lead to this, to commit an offence.

"Conveying information about civil disobedience is in and of itself not an offence," he added.

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