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Singaporean Cartoonist Leslie Chew Faces Jail For Contempt of Court

Government lawyers in Singapore started legal proceedings against Chew Peng Ee, known as Leslie Chew, the author of the satirical comic strip "Demon-cratic Singapore". He has been accused of contempt for “scandalising the judiciary of the Republic of Singapore”, said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).

The charges refer to four Cartoons that Chew had published on his Facebook page on July 20, 2011, on January 3 and 4, and on June 16, 2012. The AGC explained: "The present legal proceedings are aimed at protecting the administration of justice in the Republic of Singapore and upholding the integrity of one of our key public institutions." Leslie Chew is also currently under investigation for sedition after an allegedly "racially sensitive" comic strip was reported to the police. If Chew is found guilty of contempt, he may face a fine or imprisonment, or both. His case will be heard on August 12.

The move against Leslie Chew is seen by some as another proof that the People's Action Party (PAP), Singapore's ruling party since 1959, is further tightening its grip on political dissent and criticism of the government. Recently, the Singaporean government introduced a new regulation that requires websites that publish at least eight articles on Singapore over a period of two months and have at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month, to obtain an individual licence. The licence must be acquired by putting out a performance bond of S$50,000. Licenced websites will be compelled to remove 'prohibited content' within 24 hours after being notified by the government. According to the existing Internet Code of Practice, content that undermines "public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Singapore laws" is deemed prohibited.

Singapore isn't new to harsh punishment against individuals who criticise the institutions of the city-state. In 2010, British author and journalist Alan Shadrake (78) was sentenced to six weeks' jail and a S$20,000 ($15,400) fine. Unable to pay the sum, he subsequently served an eight weeks' jail term. In his book Once a Jolly Hangman - Singapore Justice in the Dock, Alan Shadrake had denounced Singapore's judicial system as unfair. He criticised the death penalty, the lack of impartiality and the favouring of rich and powerful people. Furthermore, he argued that courts are used by the ruling party to silence political dissent. The judge who found Mr. Shadrake guilty of the charges declared that in his book he made "claims against a dissembling and selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods. A casual and unwary reader, who does not subject the book to detailed scrutiny, might well believe his claims ... and in so doing would have lost confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore".

The new licence regulation and judicial cases such as Leslie Chew's are seen by some commentators as an attempt by the PAP to restrain political change in Singapore. Alex Au, author of the blog Yawning Bread, called it "re-introducing the climate of fear". 

If you want to contribute to the fund-raising to help cartoonist Leslie Chew, visit the author's website.

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