Free speech is very easy to understand

Fact: There is freedom of speech in Singapore and this freedom is guaranteed by our very constitution. 

*gasp* But aren’t people thrown into arrested, fined, thrown into prison and sued for large amounts of money for saying what they feel?

It is kindergarten logic – are your words and actions responsible? Or irresponsible? Ask yourself if what you say, and how you say it would create disorder, panic and civil unrest. It it does, it is irresponsible.

That’s it. Even 5 year olds understand it.

You can publicly and broadly preach a religion, advocate LGBT, support animal testing, criticise a restaurant, scold the SMRT, raise a middle finger at the ERP, draw a moustache on a politician, express scorn for the PAP, write about why monkey brain consumption should be legitimate and profess your love for satan. The authorities don’t care.

That is why prosecutors generally don’t mind it when even seemingly “inappropriate” articles get expressed on the internet. Because what can you do on the internet really? Click your mouse angrily on a frowning emoticon? But they just don’t like it if online words can lead to offline unrest – that is when they would spring into action.

If you’re still not sure what “irresponsible” means, this diagram should help you.

The tort of defamation should be easy. These laws exist to protect a person against harm to his trade and economic interests and to protect reputation from the effects of malicious falsehood. So saying that you hate someone’s fishball noodles is fine, but saying that the fishball noodles are made from dog…when it is not, then that is defamation.

It is also defamation when you accuse an individual of stealing your life savings, when they did not.

And remember: public order. If you spark civil unrest, turmoil and hurt the sensitive fabric of religions, you will be prosecuted. If you cause a Little India riot, if your protest affects other groups at Hong Lim park, if you call people to action on the streets, you will be stopped.

Emotions are contagious and when free speech fans emotions amongst large numbers of people, unrest erupts.

Keeping protests peaceful is as delicate as shaving your genitals with a razor blade. One wrong move and blood will spill. The world is rich with examples of how peaceful protests have escalated from young Anakin to full Darth Vader in a matter of moments. Even the strongest nations take years to recover from the effects of violent civil unrest.

The same goes for national security, religious harmony and public morality. If you find it hard to talk about religion and politics amongst your friends, why should these things be any different on a more public level?

Even with these guidelines, sometimes it is good to push the boundaries. A few sparks to get people to think deep is beneficial to society. And I respect the people who can do this skilfully.

But if your sparks start a fire that can burn down the whole forest, you can be sure the fire brigade will be here to extinguish what you couldn’t control.



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