Singaporean cartoonist Leslie Chew faces jail for contempt of court

Government legal action suggests ruling party is becoming more intolerant of opponents

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 2:19am

Government lawyers in Singapore have started legal proceedings that could land a political cartoonist in jail, another sign that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is becoming increasingly intolerant of opponents, critics say.

Chew Peng Ee, known to followers of his "Demon-cratic Singapore" site on Facebook as Leslie Chew, had committed contempt of court "by scandalising the judiciary of the Republic of Singapore", the Attorney-General's Chambers said.

The charges stem from four cartoons Chew had published in 2011 and 2012, three of which were about the perceived unfairness of the courts when imposing punishment. His case will be heard on August 12.

Chew has already been investigated for sedition for alleging official discrimination against Singapore's ethnic Malay minority and is out on bail.

There are no prescribed penalties for contempt of court in Singapore and the judge could issue a warning or fine instead of a jail sentence. For sedition, a person could be fined up to S$5,000 (HK$30,600) or jailed up to three years, or both.

Singapore has long taken a tough stand against criticism of the government. Leaders have taken legal action against critics, saying they needed to protect their reputations.

Singapore recently introduced laws to licence news websites that report regularly on the city state, in a move seen by many as a bid to control the spread of anti-government reports and commentary via social media.

Such reports and commentaries were believed to have contributed to gains by the opposition in a general election in 2011.

"The PAP government has essentially decided it needs to tame the blogosphere and social media," said blogger Alex Au.

Au, who uses the nickname Yawning Bread, this week accused the government in a blog post of trying to create a "climate of fear" to silence critics.

Zuraidah Ibrahim, deputy editor of the pro-government Straits Times newspaper, wrote that clashes between the PAP and the opposition Workers' Party had become more heated as Singapore reached the middle of the electoral cycle.

Both sides were trying to mobilise supporters ahead of elections that must be called by 2016, she said.