Cartoonist Leslie Chew: Arrested because of a cartoon the government didn’t like

“In March 2013, someone filed a police report over one of my cartoons and just because of that, the police had me arrested under sedition, raided my house, seized all PCs in my parent’s home including my dad’s, seized my phone and all data storage devices, thrown me into their stinky cell for 2 days, handcuffed me like a criminal, interrogated me for over than 30 hours with handcuffs on, confiscated my passport and put me under island arrest for 3 months, forbidding me from returning to my home in Malaysia, made me report for police bail every week, before they discover that they cannot charge me with sedition and quietly drop the charge.”

The above is Leslie Chew’s account of what happened to him in 2013, when the police arrested him on 19 April, Friday, and held him in custody for investigations into possible offences under Singapore’s Sedition Act, which outlaws acts “with a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different races or classes”.

Comic that got Leslie Chew into trouble

“The arrest was so wrongful that they did not even dare give me one of their infamous yet utterly useless police warning,” wrote Chew in his Facebook post about the incident, recalling his harrowing experience since three years has past, in light of the recent troubling police investigations launched against Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung.

On 19 April, Chew had barely stepped into his house for 30 mins after a trip to Vietnam when 7-8 police officers turned up at his flat to arrest him. Chew said that he had requested to take a shower but was flatly denied by the officers. However, the officers allowed Chew to change into a new set of clothes. When asked if he was intimidated, Chew replied, “I think 7-8 strangers in my parents’ flat are pretty intimidating for anybody.”

Chew is the person behind “Demon-Cratic Singapore”, a Facebook fanpage that produces a “100% fictional comic series about a country that does not exist”. But readers of the fanpage presume that the fictional country is referencing Singapore and that many of its characters are also, in fact, real individuals (such as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong).

Unlike many democratic countries where comedians and television shows make fun of politicians and their antics, Singapore’s entertainment industry rarely strays into such territory. This is why Demon-Cratic has created such a following online, for being the first in recent times to be so blatantly critical of the establishment through the use of art. His drawings would have likely hit a raw nerve of the powers that be, through the creation of comic strips about complex political issues that the average voter can understand and laugh about.

Chew recounts his experience during the police questioning: “When in their stinky cell, I was groped by their guards every morning and evening under the pretext of ‘searching for hidden weapon’, and from return from their Interview Room after each interrogation session. I felt molested but held my tongue simply because I know I am not dealing with reasonable people there.”

Chew adds: “First day I requested an extra blanket because they arrested me in my bermudas. There was no pillow in the cell so I have to either choose to use the blanket as pillow, or cover my legs which are cold due to the stale chill air. He promised but when back in the cell they refuse to give me one. So lan lan boh bian.”

At the end of his interview, the Investigating Officer (IO) asked if Chew had any complaints. Chew said to TOC, “Since I know even if I have, I am not going to get any justice out of it, I just say nothing and talk about how the lack of soap in the cell is very unhygienic for everyone in there.”

He was released at 8.45pm on Sunday after posting bail of S$10,000.

Though finally released, his passport was impounded and the police demanded that Chew report for bail every weekend. They also demanded that Chew have two bailors when he reported to them. Because of this, the two friends who acted as his bailor had to take leave to accompany him when he reported for bail—a total of eight times over the course of three months.

With all his electronic devices seized by the police during the course of their three-month long investigation, Chew’s means of income was affected, as he had no access to his data which was stored on his laptop and storage devices.

“I would not have been able to work had it not been for friends rallying to get me a phone and a PC. My father too have to suffer from not being able to access his data on his PC due to them seizing it for investigation too,” said Chew.

Chew said that he was forced to stay in Singapore despite Malaysia being his home for the past 10 years. Fortunately for him, he had his parents to rely on, else he would have had to sleep on the streets.

Chew shared with TOC that he and his lawyers only found out through the newspapers that the sedition charge against him had been dropped by the Attorney General’s Chambers. Even the Investigating Officer of his case claimed ignorance.

Read: Why the Sedition Act shouldn’t apply to Leslie Chew

Chew laments that the suffering he has gone through due to the police investigation and disruption to his life will never be compensated. “And after suffering all these bullshit over three months for committing no crime, what did I get from the Singapore Government? Nothing. No apology, no compensation, not even a single word of sorry. Three good months of my life that I am never going to get back just vanished like that.”

“I was unfairly restricted of my liberty and inconvenienced beyond any reasonable human standard all because I created a cartoon that the government did not like,” said Chew. He asked: “Is that fair to me? Is that justice for Singaporeans?”

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