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). See: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=17497
In the 2005 Reporters Without Borders classification of countries according to their respect for press freedom, Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries.