Singapore bans distribution of publication containing Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad

SINGAPORE, Nov 1 — The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has banned a publication containing religiously offensive images that insult religions from being distributed in Singapore.

In a media release today, IMDA said the publication titled Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship was found to be “objectionable” under the Undesirable Publications Act.

The book by Singaporean academic Cherian George and graphic novelist Sonny Liew was published in August this year by The MIT Press. The book’s website describes the content as exploring the motives and methods of the political censorship of cartoons around the world.

It contains 29 offensive images, including reproductions of French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, which led to protests and violence overseas.

The publication also contained denigratory images of Jesus Christ and Hindu deities.

The authority said it has engaged the publication’s distributor, Alkem Company, on this.

“The offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons first surfaced in 2006 and have been widely labelled as irresponsible, reckless and racist.

“Most major publications had refused to reproduce cartoons as they were deemed incendiary,” IMDA added.

The reproduction of these graphics has led to unrest around the world, including in Indonesia, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. It has also resulted in violent attacks, with one even involving the original publisher’s premises and staff in 2015, where 12 people were killed.

Just last year, a French teacher was killed by three teenagers after he showed his students the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad during a lesson.

IMDA said the offensive images were identified in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

“Members of the public are advised not to share the offensive images which denigrate religions and religious figures,” said the authority.

In response to media queries, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said that it reviewed the publication, and found that it contained several cartoons and drawings of the Prophet as well as cartoons that incite discrimination against Muslims, mock the Holy Quran and demean Islam.

“These images are offensive to many Muslims. Such content that negatively depicts Islam and Muslims, or any other religions for that matter, are not acceptable, and even more so in a multi-religious society such as Singapore.

“Accordingly, Muis supports IMDA’s decision taken for the publication,” it said. 

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that any material or media that denigrates any religion or religious figures “must be treated very carefully”, even if it is for academic purposes. “Especially when they may inflame a community to act violently against the author or producer and worse against another community,” Mr Masagos said.

In response to the ban, Dr George, the publication’s author, said that the book questions the “legitimacy of a lot of today’s censorship, while arguing that some red lines are necessary, particularly against hate speech”.

“To discuss these controversies and grey areas in depth, we wanted to show, not just tell. Even so, we had already covered up some potentially inflammatory cartoons with no redeeming pedagogical benefit,” he said on the book’s website.

The IMDA has “opted for additional caution”, Dr George said. “We will need some time to work out whether and how we can offer Singapore readers a redacted version of Red Lines that fully and faithfully communicates the substance of the book, while addressing the regulator’s concerns about showing works that it finds ‘objectionable’.”

This publication will join six others classified to be objectionable for offensive content under the Undesirable Publications Act.

Under this Act, anyone convicted of importing, selling, distributing, making or reproducing such a publication could be jailed for up to a year or fined a maximum of S$5,000 (RM15,382), or both. — TODAY

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