Published: 05 October 2021
1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.
2. This Bill repeals the Sedition Act and makes related amendments to other legislations.
3. The crime of Sedition has its origins in English common law. It was originally designed to protect the monarchy and the British Government from civil unrest and dissent among its own people.
4. Sedition laws were first introduced in Singapore through the Sedition Ordinance 1938 when Singapore was a British colony.
5. The Sedition Act, in its current form, has its roots in the Sedition Ordinance 1948, which was introduced by the British to the Federation of Malaya in 1948, in part to curb local opposition to the British colonial rule.
6. The Act criminalises conduct with seditious tendencies. Those tendencies are defined in section 3 of the Act as including: (a) bringing into hatred or contempt or exciting disaffection against the Government; (b) exciting citizens or residents to attempt to change in unlawful ways, any matter legally established; (c) bringing into hatred or contempt or the exciting of disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore; (d) raising discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or residents in Singapore; and (e) promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population in Singapore.
Reasons for Repeal
7. Some of the key aspects of the Sedition Act are no longer relevant and have not been relevant for a long time. Those provisions have not been used for prosecutions. Those provisions which remain the law today, have not been used for a long time.
8. For instance, the excitement of disaffection against the Government shouldn’t be criminalised. If it is, a lot of people including many in this House, would be considered criminals. But it wasn’t done away with sooner, because some of the other provisions were relevant, but over time other laws have come into place which were originally covered by the Sedition Act, including conduct that impugns the impartiality of judges, or undermines public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore, have always been dealt with under common law of contempt but now there is the Administration of Justice Act.
9. Inciting violence with the objective of effecting change to policies in Singapore; now and as of some time, find place in other legislation. Or ill-will or hostility between groups of people in Singapore.
10. But one aspect which is not in any other legislation, which remains relevant and hasn’t been dealt with therefore, is conduct that promotes feelings of ill will and hostility between different groups in the population, not just along racial or religious lines, but other lines as well. So, racial, religious lines are already covered, but other classes of the population are not covered.
11. So we’ll be making related amendments as we repeal the Sedition Act. We’ll be making related amendments to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure that that aspect, safeguard social cohesion in Singapore is maintained.
Section 267C, Penal Code
12. So let me just touch on the amendments to the Penal Code.
13. We now have laws that deal with conduct that threatens racial and religious harmony as I’ve said.
14. They include Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code, as well as of course, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
15. Beyond racial and religious harmony, we must also continue to safeguard social cohesion between other groups of the population.
16. They could be organised along the lines of language, socio-economic status, other groups.
17. So the Bill therefore amends section 267C of the Penal Code to cover this.
18. And section 267C only covers the use of documents or electronic records.
19. It will be amended to cover speeches and other forms of communication, they are equally relevant.
20. And the Bill raises the threshold of section 267C, by requiring proof of a mental fault element.
21. So the person must have intended for the violence or disobedience to the law or breach of the peace to occur, or knew or had reason to believe that these were likely to occur as a result of his words or actions.
22. So compared to section 3(1)(e) of the Sedition Act, the offence threshold for the amended section 267C will be higher.
23. The Bill also amends section 267C to define the phrase “counselling disobedience to the law” as providing instruction, advice, or information that promotes disobedience to the law.
24. The amendment is intended to provide greater clarity on the scope of the offence and its application.
Arrestability of Offences
25. Next I’ll touch on the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code.
26. The offences currently under the Sedition Act are arrestable. And it allows the Police to move quickly.
27. Once the Sedition Act is repealed, to ensure that the Police continue to be effective in investigations, where particularly social cohesion is concerned, we will amend or propose to amend the CPC to make the following offences arrestable:
Section 298 of the Penal Code, which criminalises deliberate wounding of any person’s racial or religious feelings;
28. And 267C is already an arrestable offence, no amendment is needed in this regard.
29. Sir, in conclusion, with that, I beg to move.