SINGAPORE: Can’t Take a Joke?

STEPHANIE GARCIA WRITES- Cartoons are typically humorous, but Leslie Chew is hardly laughing since being charged with sedition for his “racially insensitive” comic strip.

The 37 year old may face up to $5,000 in fines and three years jail time if he is found guilty of violating Section 298 of the Penal Code, stating “any words, gesture, or action intended to hurt the religious or racial feelings of a person is a criminal act.” Chew’s infamous “Demon-cratic Singapore” cartoon sparked controversy on March 27, depicting an alleged scene of government interaction with Malays. Although the strip included a disclaimer, insisting on its fictional nature, lawyers have weighed in and predicted that such measures will not redeem Chew in this case.

Race has been a particularly sensitive subject for Singapore recently. The city-state got off to a rocky start following independence in 1965 as violent racial tensions between Malays and Chinese threatened early development. In an effort to ensure that similar problems do not resurface, the government does its best to safeguard its population by taking racially loaded actions like Chew’s seriously.

In defense of the action being taken against Chew, the Attorney General’s Chambers (ACG) released a statement insisting that its swift punitive measures are limited to racial and religious matters that “have the potential to create fault lines within the society.”

While it is understandable that racial remarks are responded to with sensitivity given the nation’s history during development, Western journalists may wish to remind the ACG that all this fuss is over a cartoon. Relax, and learn to take a joke.

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