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Publication banned from distribution in Singapore due to 'offensive images that denigrate religions'

Publication banned from distribution in Singapore due to 'offensive images that denigrate religions'

The Infocomm Media Development Authority said it found 29 "objectionable" images in the publication Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship. (Image: MIT Press)

SINGAPORE: A publication has been banned from distribution in Singapore due to “offensive images that denigrate religions”, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said on Monday (Nov 1).

The publication Red Lines: Political Cartoons And The Struggle Against Censorship was deemed “objectionable” under the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA), added the authority. The book is authored by Professor Cherian George and cartoonist Sonny Liew.

IMDA said the publication was banned because it includes offensive images, including reproductions of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, which led to protests and violence overseas.

"The publication also contained other denigratory references pertaining to Hinduism and Christianity," said IMDA.

The authority, in consultation with the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), identified 29 images that are “objectionable under the UPA”.  It has "engaged" the distributor Alkem Company about this.

"The offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons first appeared in 2006 and have been widely labelled as irresponsible, reckless and racist," said the authority. 

"Most major publications had refused to reproduce the cartoons as they were deemed incendiary.

"International media reports (BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, New York Times, ABC News) further noted that the reproduction of these graphics had led to violent riots and deaths."

It also noted that the cartoons have sparked protests around the world, including in Indonesia, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. They have also resulted in violence, such as the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo's premises and staff.

"Just last year, a French teacher was killed by three teenagers after he showed his students the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad during a lesson," said IMDA.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on Monday expressed support for the decision to ban the distribution of the book.

MUIS said it has reviewed the publication and found that it "contained several cartoons/drawings of the Prophet, as well as cartoons which incite discrimination against Muslims, mock the Holy Quran, and demean Islam".

"These images are offensive to many Muslims. Such content that negatively depicts Islam and Muslims, or any other religions for that matter, are not acceptable, and even more so in a multi-religious society such as Singapore," said MUIS.

Prof George wrote in a post on the book's website that IMDA has "opted for additional caution" in deciding to ban the book's distribution.

"Although we have had no direct communications with IMDA officials, we understood from our distributor that they expressed gratitude for our cooperation, and appreciated the academic purpose of the book," he said. 

"The book questions the legitimacy of a lot of today’s censorship, while arguing that some red lines are necessary, particularly against hate speech," Prof George added. 

"To discuss these controversies and grey areas in depth, we wanted to show, not just tell. Even so, the book covers up some potentially inflammatory cartoons with no redeeming pedagogical benefit."

He said the publisher and main audience are American, and a draft was sent to a diverse panel of readers around the world as a "sensitivity check".

"We will need more time to work out whether and how we can offer Singapore readers a redacted version of Red Lines that fully and faithfully communicates the substance of the book, while addressing the regulator’s concerns about showing works that it finds ‘objectionable’," he added.

In the last five years, six other publications have been found to be “objectionable for denigrating various religious communities”, IMDA said.

Under the UPA, anyone convicted of importing, selling, distributing, making or reproducing an objectionable publication can be fined up to S$5,000, jailed for up to one year, or both.

The authority also advised members of the public not to share offensive images that denigrate religions and religious figures.

Source: CNA/ga(mi)


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