Bill to repeal Sedition Act introduced in Parliament; its application is 'limited' given overlaps with other laws: MHA
SINGAPORE: The Government on Monday (Sep 13) introduced a Bill in Parliament to repeal the Sedition Act, saying that its application is “limited” as other laws deal with similar offences in a more targeted manner.
“We had used the Sedition Act in the past to address various forms of conduct that could weaken our social fabric and undermine our institutions,” the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a news release on Monday.
“Over the years, new laws were introduced to deal with these concerns in a more targeted and calibrated manner.”
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, the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, and specific provisions under the Penal Code.
“Thus, the Sedition Act is of limited application and can be repealed,” MHA added.
The proposal to repeal the Sedition Act also comes as the Government plans to pass a new racial harmony law that consolidates its powers to deal with racial issues.
The Sedition Act has been in existence since 1938, and criminalises conduct with seditious tendencies including promoting disaffection against the Government and feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes.
Nevertheless, MHA said one aspect of the Sedition Act, namely ensuring social cohesion between different groups within Singapore, continues to be relevant.
“One of the offences in the Penal Code will therefore be amended to ensure that this continues to be adequately addressed, in a more calibrated way,” the ministry said.
While the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the Penal Code already cover cases of disharmony involving religious and racial groups, MHA said there is a need to have laws that can deal with serious cases of disharmony involving other groups.
These include persons identified or organised on the basis of religion, nationality, or residential status.
To this end, MHA will amend Section 267C of the Penal Code, which 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 section will be amended to cover other acts, such as speeches and other verbal communications, that could lead to violence, disobedience to the law or a breach of the peace.
“At the same time, however, we will narrow the scope of application by requiring 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,” MHA said.
The section 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.
MAKING SOME OFFENCES UNDER PENAL CODE ARRESTABLE
Beyond amendments to that section, MHA is proposing to make some offences in the Penal Code, that deal with conduct threatening social cohesion and harmony, arrestable. Similar offences under the Sedition Act are arrestable.
The offences cover deliberate wounding of any person’s religious or racial feelings, the promotion of disharmony between different religious and racial groups, and the publication of material with intent to incite any class of persons to commit an offence against another class of persons.
The move ensures that the police can continue to act swiftly and effectively when dealing with egregious cases that affect social cohesion, MHA said.