Parliament repeals 'extreme' Sedition Act after 83 years
SINGAPORE — Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 5) repealed the 83-year-old Sedition Act, which Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam described as “extreme legislation”, with some relevant provisions now replaced by other targeted laws. The Act had criminalised inciting hate and contempt against the Government, among other conduct.
- The Sedition Act was repealed on Tuesday
- The law had guarded against inciting hate and contempt against the Government
- But Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said this should not be criminalised and is irrelevant today
- Several new laws have since been passed which overlapped with offences covered by the Sedition Act
- The Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code were amended as well to safeguard social cohesion
SINGAPORE — Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 5) repealed the 83-year-old Sedition Act, which Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam described as “extreme legislation”, with some relevant provisions now replaced by other targeted laws. The Act had criminalised inciting hate and contempt against the Government, among other conduct.
Such a law, which came from English common law and was originally designed to protect the monarchy and government from civil unrest and dissent, is no longer relevant today and has not been so for a long time, he said in a speech on the Sedition (Repeal) Bill.
“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.
“But it hasn't been done away with sooner, because some of the other provisions were relevant,” he added.
As time passed, laws such as the Administration of Justice Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act covered offences that overlapped with the Sedition Act in a more targeted way.
The former criminalises contempt of court, while the latter makes it an offence to cause ill will or hostility between religious groups. Similar offences are listed in Section 3 of the Sedition Act.
Five of the six prosecutions under the Sedition Act took place between 2005 and 2016, and if these offences took place today, they could potentially be prosecuted under newer laws, the Ministry of Home Affairs said previously.
Although it is largely irrelevant now, the Sedition Act was still useful in guarding against offences that cause discontent and hostility between groups of the population not along racial or religious lines, he said.
Hence, as part of the same Bill, Parliament also amended the Penal Code to safeguard social cohesion between other groups in Singapore, such as between people of different socio-economic status or language.
Section 267C of the Penal Code, which previously applied only to the use of documents or electronic records, will now cover speeches and other forms of communication that incite violence against others, counsel others to disobey the law or are likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
The amendment will also clarify the definition of “counselling disobedience of the law” as providing instruction, advice or information that promotes disobedience.
Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera from Aljunied Group Representation Constituency was the only MP to raise questions during the debate on the Bill.
He asked if the amended Section 267C would therefore mean that the mere instruction of civil disobedience, such as a lecturer teaching a module on civil disobedience, would constitute an offence.
To this, Mr Shanmugam said the new Section 267C stipulates that the person must have intended for the violence or the breach of the peace to happen, so the mere conveyance of information about civil disobedience is not a crime in itself.
“(This) is a higher level than what the Sedition Act requires,” he added.
As part of the same Bill, further amendments were also made to the Criminal Procedure Code to allow the police to arrest offenders who deliberately wound the religious or racial feelings, promote disharmony between religious or racial groups, or publish material that intends to incite any class of persons to commit offences against another class of persons.
These were already arrestable offences under the Sedition Act, so these amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code would continue to allow the authorities to move quickly and be effective in investigations concerning social cohesion, Mr Shanmugam said.
Mr Perera sought to clarify why these offences needed to be arrestable in the first place, and what constitutes as an “egregious” case affecting social cohesion that would justify an arrest without warrant.
“By making these offences arrestable and giving the police the power to arrest without a warrant, would that not increase the risk of the wrong judgement being made, which might inflame a delicate situation further? How would that risk be mitigated?” he asked.
In response, Mr Shanmugam said: “The counter question is what is the prejudice if it is made arrestable, if it allows the police to move faster and to intervene? These are serious matters (of crimes against social cohesion). That’s a matter of judgement.”
The WP MP also queried why a six-month time limit for prosecution under the Sedition Act, which reduced the risk of a suspect being investigated for sedition too long after the event, was not ported over to the Penal Code as well.
Mr Shanmugam said that the Sedition Act “is a very extreme legislation” that the Government is now repealing, and the time limit clause had to be seen in that context.
“On the strict wordings of (Section 3 of the Sedition Act), Mr Perera would have committed offences several times, and I’m likely to have committed offences several times as well, both in my previous incarnation and now, because it talks about raising discontent and disaffection among the citizens of Singapore, and exciting disaffection against the government,” he added.
However, the amendments to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code are not meant to port over the extreme law in its entirety.
“So, there is no sui generis (in) taking off the Sedition Act, and putting what you now have in the other pieces of legislation, which are completely different animals. The essence and the heart of the Sedition Act is being done away with,” he said. The Latin term “sui generis” means something that is of its own kind.
Related topicssedition law racial harmony religion MHA repeal K Shanmugam
Read more of the latest in