Published: 13 September 2021
1. The Sedition (Repeal) Bill was read for the first time in Parliament today. The Bill will repeal the Sedition Act and make related amendments to other Acts.
Background of the Sedition Act
2. The Sedition Act has been in existence since 1938. It criminalises conduct with seditious tendencies, which are defined in section 3 of the Act:
3. The Sedition Act also empowers the Courts to suspend the publication of newspapers containing seditious content and prohibit the circulation of seditious publications.
Impetus for Repeal
4. 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. 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 Thus, the Sedition Act is of limited application and can be repealed
5. That 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, as set out below.
Related Amendments to Other Acts
6. Section 3(1)(e) of the Sedition Act safeguards social cohesion in Singapore, by criminalising conduct that promotes feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population. Some examples of “different classes of the population” include groups of persons identified or organised on the basis of religion, nationality, or residential status.
7. Presently, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code already cover cases of disharmony involving religious and racial groups.
8. With the repeal of the Sedition Act, there is a need to ensure that we continue to have laws that can deal with serious cases of disharmony involving other groups, such as those mentioned in paragraph 6 above. To this end, MHA will amend section 267C of the Penal Code. Currently, section 267C 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.
9. Section 267C will also 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.
10. Finally, section 267C of the Penal Code will 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.
Criminal Procedure Code
11. The offences under the Sedition Act are arrestable. With its repeal, to ensure that the Police can continue to act swiftly and effectively when dealing with egregious cases that affect social cohesion, MHA proposes to make the following offences in the Penal Code, that deal with conduct which threatens social cohesion and harmony, arrestable:
Section 298, which criminalises the deliberate wounding of any person’s religious or racial feelings;
Section 298A, which criminalises the promotion of disharmony between different religious and racial groups and acts which are prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious or racial groups and which disturb the public tranquility; and
Section 505, which criminalises, among other things, the making, publication or circulation of material with intent to incite any class of persons to commit an offence against another class of persons.
12. As the offences under section 267C of the Penal Code are already arrestable, no further amendment is required in this regard.