Warning to Christian Fundamentalists: Sedition Act

Coming close at the heels of the Aware saga and the concern over Christian fundamentalism taking root in Singapore, the 8 weeks jail is a warning that the government will get tough and tougher.  Ong Kian Cheong and Dorothy Chan were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. If the Aware saga did not explode as it did, the couple would probably have gotten a lighter sentence and a slap on the wrist. But jail sentences won’t stop fundamentalists, it might be their badge of faith instead. Maybe they should be rehabilitated like the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists held under the ISA.

Couple sentenced to 8 weeks jail for distributing seditious publications

SINGAPORE : A couple, found guilty last month of distributing seditious or objectionable publications, has been sentenced to 8 weeks jail each.

50-year-old SingTel technical officer Ong Kian Cheong and his 46-year-old wife, UBS associate director Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, had been found guilty on four charges each of sedition.

For two decades, the couple spread their faith by handing out religious pamphlets, and then by dropping tracts into random HDB letterboxes.

From around 1998, however, the couple, both Protestant Christians, mailed them to addresses picked out from the telephone directory – those of Muslims included.

They “clearly did so with the intent of convincing the Muslim reader to convert to Christianity”, a district court found.

For distributing and possessing seditious and objectionable publications, husband and wife were sentenced to eight weeks’ jail each on Wednesday.

Such “intolerance, insensitivity and ignorance of delicate issues concerning race and religion” in Singapore “clearly warranted” a custodial sentence, said District Judge Roy Neighbour.

In the first full trial heard under the Sedition Act, the married couple of 24 years was found guilty on May 28 of the charges.

In 2007, Mr Irwan Ariffin, 32, and Madam Farhati Ahmad, 36, received an evangelistic comic-style booklet titled The Little Bride through the mail while Mr Isa Raffee, 35, was sent Who Is Allah?.

After a complaint to the police, an ambush was laid and the pair was arrested on Jan 30 last year.

Found in their condominium in Bukit Timah were 439 copies of 11 seditious tracts.

During the 11-day trial, it emerged that the SingTel technical officer and his wife, sent out about 20,000 publications in seven years.

Produced by an American firm called Chick Publications, the fundamentalist Protestant materials were “not only offensive for religious content but also have a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between Muslims and Christians in Singapore”, said Judge Neighbour.

By distributing tracts with “callous, denigratory, offensive and insensitive statements on religion with aspersions on race”, the pair had committed “serious” offences that “have the capacity to undermine and erode the delicate fabric of racial and religious harmony in Singapore”.

Common sense, he said, dictated that religious fervor to spread the faith, “in our society, must be constrained by sensitivity, tolerance and mutual respect for another’s faith and religious beliefs”.

Ong and Chan were expressionless when sentenced.

Their lawyer Selva K Naidu told the court that they had filed a notice of appeal against the conviction last Friday. He was awaiting instructions to proceed.

The pair faced two charges of distributing seditious publications each, and one each of distributing an objectionable publication and possession of seditious tracts.

They got four weeks’ jail for each charge – two of them running consecutively and the remaining to run concurrently.

They could have been fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to three years for each of the two charges.

The possession charge carries a maximum fine of $2,000 and/or jail for up to 18 months. Distributing objectionable publications is punishable with a fine not exceeding $5,000 and/or up to one year behind bars. – CNA /ls

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