Kenneth Jeyaretnam: How Not To Get Charged With Sedition

The  editors of the The Real Singapore, Ai Takagi and Yang Kaiheng, have been charged with sedition for stirring up ill will between Singaporeans and foreigners. Takagi has already pleaded guilty to four counts whilst her husband is claiming trial.

Many  of us Singaporeans are still unsure what sedition actually is even when we know it’s a law left over on the statute books from the British colonial oppression. The common law understanding of sedition is of a political crime or speech threatening to overthrow the State by unlawful means. Singapore’s Sedition Act departs from common law understanding in several distinct ways one of which includes “the promotion of  feelings of ill will or hostility between races or classes…”   Whilst the alleged editors of TRS mostly upset the feelings of PRC Chinese and Filipinos, this expansion of the Sedition Act is more often used to protect the sensibilities of Malays who are largely Muslim. This stems from Article 152 of the Constitution which protects our Malay Singaporeans as the indigenous people of Singapore and Islam as their religion.

It is important to remember that the Right to Free Speech  which is  guaranteed to us by Article 14  of the Constitution does not exist as a stand alone right in Singapore. Free Speech is not in fact free but is restricted by eight grounds one of which is Sedition. For bloggers  and netizens in our beloved Republic not knowing the definitions can be rather risky. When you cross the  blurry line you can end up facing criminal and/or civil charges. Sedition carries a maximum fine of S$5,000 and up to 3 years in jail.

Luckily I  can now shed some light on the mystery of Sedition Singapore style. Hopefully  this will keep you all safe whilst you post rabid thoughts on Facebook, Twitter  or WordPress at one 0′ clock in the morning.  Here is my foolproof guide to staying out of jail. You are welcome!

KJ’s guide to staying out of prison for offences including but not limited to Sedition

1. Post a disclaimer.  It can be a lie or insincere such as “Everything I say is untrue and I’m just making fun of races and ethnic minorities or Singaporeans with darker skin so I’m not an actual racist ok ah?”   Choose your own words. Try to reference satire. That’s a fail safe  ‘get out of jail even for racists’ card.

2. Tell the truth.  (Best used to prevent charges of defamation) This is a method that seems to work for me as I’ve never been sued no matter how unpalatable the questions I ask. I’m not a racist or Foreigner-hater either  which helps, although I continue to question our open door immigration policies or suggest fairer deals for Singaporean citizens.

3. Join a Political Party and not necessarily the PAP. Obviously being a high up in the PAP or grassroots or a founding father of the Nation brings its own ‘get out of jail card’. Yet, most Singaporeans think they are safe staying under the radar by blogging as individuals or not actually joining a Party. This was the big mistake of the so-called Marxist conspirators in 1987. By failing to join the Workers Party they lost the protection of legitimate political expression and left themselves open to claims that they were in fact secret Communists. (Note this does not keep you safe in Malaysia)


“TRS made $500k from ads in 17 months”. 

Be careful not to make any money. I can reveal that the best  way not to cross the sedition line is to avoid making any money or attracting a large number of views. So do not monetise your blog. Whatever you do, do not advertise on your blog or ask for donations because it’s clear from the reports that what is really eating the Government is the amount of money the alleged editors of TRS  made. The State Times headline today on page 8 is that,  TRS made $500k from ads in 17 months“.  The report also adds “But, in fact, it was a big cash cow that raked in almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue for its owners in just 17 months.”   

One wonders whether their actual crime was in running a profitable business? While I find TRS’s stoking of xenophobia distasteful, it is unfortunately one of the things that comes with a free media. In the US and the UK several newspapers make a living by stirring up xenophobia, such as the Daily Mail. They may not uphold the highest standards of journalistic ethics but as long as they do not cross the line into advocating violence they have a right to report. UK readers have a right to complain to an independent Press Complaints Commission which can order that the newspaper publish a retraction or make redress. But no one disputes their right to make money from journalism or their right to appeal to the prejudices of their readers in an effort to make money.

In Singapore’s case of course double standards apply. What really exercises the PAP Government is seeing that an independent media not be allowed to develop in Singapore. The best way to stop that happening  is to cut off a publication’s source of funding, particularly advertising. TRS’s huge numbers of views (134 million page views in its last year) make the State online media look bad by comparison despite the monopoly that they enjoy. Ultimately if TRS was not shut down and made and example of they would threaten the financial viability of the Government media. I suspect TRS’s popularity in terms of views was stealing readers directly from STOMP.

The campaign to shut down TRS has direct analogies to the way LKY waged war against the foreign media in the 1980s. He said that if they carried reports critical of him or his Government that he would ensure that they earned no advertising revenue in Singapore. Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Economist were sold in Singapore without adverts when they fell foul of LKY.  Western Governments spinelessly failed to defend their newspapers against what amounted to an illegal  trade restriction  in breach of World Trade Organisation rules. In time the newspapers kowtowed and self censored eventually not carrying anything too critical of the PAP or the Lee dynasty. LKY was absolutely right of course. The perfect way to control overseas media or any critical voice is to hit them in their pockets.

The PAP in essence run Singapore like  a Communist state although this is heavily disguised and often misunderstood.  Most of the economy  including the Media is controlled by the Government. Even private businesses are often dependent on contracts to supply Government-owned companies or on subsidies paid for by the taxpayer. Almost all land is ultimately owned by the Government making the Government  the Landlord of most businesses.  If you tow the line or better still support the PAP enthusiastically then you will be allowed to make money. If you fail to play the game you will soon find yourself in trouble for breaching vague and ill-defined regulations or sued into bankruptcy using oppressive defamation laws.

Those laws that may be breached are  vaguely defined in the first place and interpreted by judges  who in turn are appointed by the people suing, the very definition of conflict of interest.  The PAP has extracted money by milking the  citizen cash cow, hobbling her, failing to provide adequate health care and then housing the Cash Cow in a very basic yet severely overcrowded barn. By these means the PAP has built up our supposedly huge reserves which are a very useful tool indeed when it comes to buying friends and influencing people abroad.


The DPP has accused the TRS duo of fabricating stories yet the State media do this all the time.  Stomp, owned by the State Times, frequently runs similar stories to TRS yet they are allowed to get away with appalling standards of journalism. The Finance Minister and the Government fabricate figures in the Budget where vast sums of money are unaccounted for. Money is allocated to funds which then disappear with no accountability.

Takagi and Yang  who presumably ran a business for profit are accused of “pocketing” money yet the Government, not supposed to be a for profit business, does that. If this case was really about stopping the stirring up of ill will between different races then LKY would have been convicted long ago for his comments about Malays, Indians, Muslims, Africans and whites. What it is really  happening here is that no one who criticises the Government or the Lee family can be allowed to make a living in Singapore. There is a direct line running from  the suing of  foreign newspapers in the 1970’s to the bankruptcy of my late father JBJ , the persecution of Doctor Simon Shorvon and the recent action against Roy Ngerng and  Amos Yee and all others who dare to offer an alternative to the PAP/Lee family hegemony.



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