According to an August 6 article in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Chew has been under police investigation since April for potential wrongdoing in several cartoons he drew for his Facebook comic strip, which he describes as a “totally fictional comic.”
Police arrested Mr. Chew on April 19 and questioned him over alleged sedition after a citizen filed a police complaint against the cartoonist for certain comic strips that the person said were racially insensitive.
These were not the same cartoons deemed to be in contempt of court. Two of those “contempt” cartoons are featured below.
Malaysian cartoonist and CRNI Courage Award winner Zunar met and spoke at length with the Mr. Chew on a recent trip to Singapore. What follows is Zunar’s report on that conversation
“My conversation with Leslie Chew”
July 31, 2013
Singaporean cartoonist Leslie Chew was facing the risk of jail time when the government charged him with ‘Contempt of Court’ for his comics. The government had decided that his comic humor undermined the judiciary system. In December 2012, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) had sent an email demanding an apology over one cartoon. Leslie had refuse to apologize for that cartoon. This led to the AGC presenting 5 cartoons to court for the latest contempt proceeding. However, the court rejected the AGC request, to proceed with the one they had demanded an apology for.
“It is clear from this that the AGC will unreasonably threaten to sue even if they have no ground in the first place,” said Leslie. According to Leslie, the writ from the AGC on the 25th July 2013 stated that four of his cartoons had questioned differential treatment in cases by the judiciary based on status of nationality and political affiliation. According to his Lawyer, M. Ravi, the “Contempt Of Court” charge, if found guilty, carries the penalty of two months imprisonment and SD20,000 (US $15,759 fine).
At present, the case has been withdrawn by the AGC after Leslie posted an apology on his Facebook page on 6th August 2013 and deleted the 4 comics in question. Leslie said, “I think (the charge) is not fair. This is the first time they have any issue with these four comics. Surely a warning letter would suffice? Does it warrant dragging an ordinary citizen to court just because his point of view might not be the same as the authorities?”
Leslie, 37 started publishing cartoons almost daily on his Facebook page since May 2011. With “Demon-cratic” as a tagline, the web-based comic has attracted over 28,000 followers to date. His cartoons question government policies – a rarity for artists in Singapore.
For Leslie, this is not the first time he had come face to face with the authorities. On 19th of April this year he was detained and locked up for two days under the Sedition Act for criticizing the state’s discrimination against the minorities in separate cartoons. He was arrested at his parents’ house, and during the raid ten plain-clothed policemen not only confiscated his computer, hard disk and cell phone, he was also asked to surrender his passport. Personal computers and hard disks belonging to his father were not spared either.
The Sedition Act carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of SD5,000 (US $3,939) if found guilty. However the government later withdrew the charge.
“I was interrogated for over 30 hours and placed under island arrest for 3 months and have to report for bail extension 6 times during that period.” Leslie said, “and now that they have dropped the sedition charge, does it mean that what is stated in my comic is true? Had they made a wrongful arrest? If so, I’d expect the authorities to at least have the decency to apologize for all the inconvenience and distress they have caused me, my family and my friends. But sadly, this is Singapore, and common decency from them is probably the last thing anyone can expect.”
In a meeting with Leslie and his lawyer in one of the restaurants in Singapore’s “Little India”, Leslie declined to be photographed. “I don’t need the limelight, let my work speaks for itself,” he said.
He started his conversation by envisioning how most Singaporeans live in fear. He was hoping that his cartoons could be the remedy to the shackles that the citizens are living in. “If you can laugh at what you fear, you can’t very well fear it for much longer,” says the cartoonist, whose real name is Chew Peng Ee.