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Singapore 20 July 2006

Government drops charges against blogger who posted Jesus cartoons

Reporters Without Borders today hailed a decision by the Singaporean authorities to drop all charges against a 21-year-old blogger who had been accused of violating the Sedition Act by posting cartoons of Jesus on his blog. The authorities said they let him off with a warning.

Posted in January, the cartoons were removed from his blog in March when the authorities intervened and confiscated his computer. He had faced up to three years in prison and a fine of 5,000 Singaporean dollars (2,500 euros).

“We welcome this decision as the cartoons posed absolutely no threat to Singapore’s ‘social harmony’ and posting them was clearly not grounds for imprisonment,” Reporters Without Borders said. “ But Singapore’s media are closely controlled by the government and the Internet offers an alternative means of expression for its citizens, so we deplore the recent increase in the harassment of bloggers.”

The organisation added: “Just two weeks ago, the government intervened to stop a blogger’s column in the Today newspaper. After these two cases, we hope Singapore’s Internet users will not be intimidated and will continue to express their views online.”

In the 2005 Reporters Without Borders classification of countries according to their respect for press freedom, Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries.


Blogger could go to prison for posting Jesus Cartoons

By forcing a blogger to remove four cartoons of Jesus from his blog last March and by charging him with a violation of the Sedition Act, for which he faces up to three years in prison, the Singaporean authorities were violating free expression and trying to foster self-censorship in the country’s blogosphere, Reporters Without Borders said today.

“We understand that cartoons relating to religious symbols may be found shocking, but they should be tolerated for the sake of free expression,” the organisation said. “Anyway, it is hard to see how posting a few humorous drawings, no matter how bad their taste, could destabilize social harmony in Singapore, as the authorities suggested.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “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. 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 story was first reported by the Singapore-based Straits Times daily, which referred to the blogger only by his pseudonym and did not give his real name or his blog’s address. The newspaper said Char did not draw the cartoons himself, he just found them on the Internet and posted them on his blog.

One of them, posted in January, portrayed Jesus as a zombie. All of the cartoons were taken down after the police stepped in. According to the Straits Times, Char acknowledged that posting the cartoons was an “unwise move.” The police confiscated his computer and told him an investigation would be carried out. When Char got back in touch with the authorities last month, they told him he was still being investigated.

This case follows the conviction of three bloggers for posting racist comments about the Muslim and Malay communities. One of them got a one-month prison sentence. Reporters Without Borders also voiced concern in April about a series of government measures restricting podcasting (the online distribution of audio files).

In the 2005 Reporters Without Borders classification of countries according to their respect for press freedom, Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries.

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