RSF criticises investigation of Singapore blogger

26 Feb 06

Singapore’s police investigation of an Internet blogger who posted cartoons mocking Jesus Christ shows the city-state has scant regard for media independence, a press freedom group says.

“It is not the job of the police to intervene in this kind of case. By targeting this blogger, the authorities have once again shown they attribute scant importance to media diversity and independence,” the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.

“In their view, the role of press is simply to educate and orientate the public, a position not very dissimilar to the one taken by the Chinese and Vietnamese regimes.”

The Straits Times has reported that the 21-year-old blogger, who described himself as a “free thinker”, first posted a cartoon in January depicting Jesus Christ as a zombie biting a boy’s head.

He ignored an online message asking for the cartoon’s removal and went on to post more caricatures of Christ to spite the sender.

“I never thought anyone would complain to the police because the pictures were not insidious,” he told the newspaper, adding that the cartoons had already been removed from his site.

Police told AFP Friday they are continuing to investigate the blogger after first questioning him in March.

The blogger could be jailed for up to three years or fined 5,000 Singapore (3,148 US) dollars or both if convicted under the Sedition Act.

“It is a serious offence for any person to distribute or reproduce any seditious publication which may cause feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes,” an earlier police statement said.

RSF said it understood that sections of the community might find cartoons relating to religious symbols shocking, “but they should be tolerated for the sake of free expression.”

Singapore, a multi-racial island nation, clamps down hard on anyone inciting communal tensions. Two ethnic Chinese men were jailed last year for anti-Muslim blogs.

Ethnic Chinese make up 76 percent of Singapore’s resident population of 3.4 million. Malay Muslims account for 13.7 percent followed by ethnic Indians and other racial groups.

In April, RSF condemned Singapore’s restrictions on political discussions in blogs and websites ahead of general elections held in May.

Last year the group ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its annual press freedom index, alongside the likes of Egypt and Syria.

Singapore’s ruling party is credited with turning the city-state into one of Asia’s richest and most modern societies, but condemned by critics for restrictions on dissent.

Foreign publications have paid heavy damages or suffered circulation restrictions after publishing articles critical of Singapore’s leaders.

But in a forum with foreign correspondents in April, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew defended the country’s record.

“We’re not going to allow foreign correspondents or foreign journalists or anybody else to tell us what to do,” said Lee, 82, the former prime minister who holds the position of minister mentor in the government of his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

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