Leslie Chew vs his demons, Round One: victory for common sense



July 29th, 2013

UPDATE, 7 August: The government has dropped contempt of court proceedings after Leslie Chew apologised and took down the offending cartoons. See news report.

The government has announced that it will not charge “Demon-cratic Singapore” cartoonist Leslie Chew with sedition. The decision of the Attorney-General’s Chambers is spot on – notwithstanding the wishes of a grand total of 140 individuals who signed a petition asking the government to throw the book at him. As this blog pleaded three months ago, if the government feared that Chew’s criticism of its race policies would have any traction, it should respond with arguments, not force.

Chew is not off the hook yet. While the Sedition Act won’t be used against him, he has committed contempt of court, the AGC says. His fate now hinges partly on how the court reads the law on scandalising the judiciary. Singapore has traditionally taken a tough line. Recall how three activists were jailed five years ago for wearing t-shirts emblazoned with kangaroos in judges’ robes.

Since then, however, the courts’ thinking has evolved. In the Alan Shadrake case, the Court of Appeal applied a more liberal “real risk” test for the first time. Shadrake’s conviction was upheld, so the shift in thinking was barely noticed beyond legal circles. Chew’s lawyers, M. Ravi and Choo Zheng Xi, may ask the court to refine its thinking further and rule that – regardless of how inherently insulting the cartoons may have been – Chew does not merit a jail term or fine.

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