MHA says Sedition Act now of limited application and can be repealed

The Sedition Act, in existence since 1938, has been used six times since 1965 and was last used in 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is seeking to repeal the Sedition Act, which has seen six prosecutions since 1965.

The Sedition (Repeal) Bill was introduced in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13).

The Act criminalises conduct with seditious tendencies, and also empowers the courts to suspend the publication of newspapers containing seditious content and prohibit the circulation of seditious publications.

In existence since 1938, the Act was last used in 2016, in the prosecution of individuals behind The Real Singapore, which had encouraged anti-foreigner sentiment through online posts.

Over the years, new laws have been introduced to deal with concerns in a more targeted and calibrated manner, said MHA.

These include the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019, the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016, the Undesirable Publications Act and the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, as well as specific provisions under the Penal Code.

As such, MHA said the Sedition Act is now of limited application and can be repealed.

However, it added that one aspect of the Act that seeks to ensure social cohesion between different groups continues to be relevant.

The Penal Code, the ministry said, should be amended to ensure this continues to be adequately addressed.

The Sedition Act currently criminalises conduct that promotes feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes.

Disharmony involving religious and racial groups is already covered under other laws, said MHA.

But, if the Act is repealed, there needs to be laws that can deal with disharmony involving groups outside of religious and racial groups.

As such, MHA proposes amendments to the Penal Code, which currently prohibits the making, possession or dissemination of material containing any incitement of violence against others, counselling others to disobey the law, or which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

The ministry intends for this to be extended to cover other acts, such as speeches and other verbal communications, but to narrow the scope to require that the offender intended for the violence, disobedience to the law, or breach of the peace to occur, or knew or had reason to believe that these would likely occur.

It will also be amended to clarify that "counselling disobedience to the law" includes, but is not limited to, providing instruction, advice, or information that promotes disobedience to the law.

The Bill also seeks to deal with the powers of arrest when the Sedition Act is repealed. Under the Act, offenders can be arrested.

To ensure the police can still act swiftly and effectively, MHA proposes that other offences currently under the Penal Code be amended to be made arrestable ones.

The offences are: the deliberate wounding of any person's religious or racial feelings; the promotion of disharmony between different religious and racial groups and acts which are prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious or racial groups and which disturb the public tranquillity; and the making, publication or circulation of material with intent to incite any class of persons to commit an offence against another class of persons.

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