Singapore evangelists found guilty in first sedition trial

A Christian couple has been found guilty of distributing seditious or objectionable material to three Muslims and being in possession of seditious publications.

The case of Ong Kian Cheong, a SingTel technical officer, and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, a UBS associate director, marks the first time in the republic that a full trial under the Sedition Act has been heard.

In 2005, a man was jailed for a month for posting inflammatory and vicious remarks about Muslims and Malays on the internet. The following year, an accounts assistant received a stern warning for posting an offensive cartoon of Jesus Christ on his blog.

For many years, Ong and Chan had been involved in mass-mailing evangelistic tracts to members of the public. Three recipients of some of the booklets found them seditious or objectionable and lodged complaints.

They received the two evangelistic tracts titled The Little Bride or Who Is Allah? in December last year and told the court they felt angry, insulted and offended and believed a Christian group had sent them.

Ong and Chan were arrested on January 30 last year. The couple was also found to be in possession of 439 copies of 11 publications deemed sedicious at their Maplewoods Condominium.

The trial revolved around whether the couple knew or had reason to believe the publications they mailed to the three plaintiffs were seditious.

The prosecution had alleged that they were fully aware of the offensive nature of the contents and distributed those offensive publications to members of different faiths in Singapore with no regard for their feelings or sensitivities, according to the Straits Times.

Ong and Chan, however, claimed they had not read nor know what the tracts in question contained. Moreover, they added, they did not have reason to believe that the 11 tracts were seditious since they were openly sold at the Tecman bookstore in Bras Basah Complex.

District judge Roy Neighbour rejected their defence on the grounds that the two tracts received by the three plaintiffs had been “ordered regularly and in bulk for over two decades” since 1987. Underscoring that they are educated and intelligent people, the judge said they “would have known” that the publications “had a serious seditious tendency because the tracts are not only highly critical but denigrate Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and other religions”, reported Today.

He also disbelieved Chan’s claim that she had “randomly” sent them out, saying that “in a multi-racial society like Singapore, a name can reveal a person’s race and possibly religion”.

“It is plain (they) were watering down their roles in the commission of the offences,” said the judge.

The case was adjourned until Thursday for mitigation and possible sentencing.

Under the Sedition Act, anything that has a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore is considered seditious.

For distributing a seditious publication, the couple faces a fine of up to $5,000 and jail for up to three years on each of two charges.