Singapore has banned a book on political cartoons due to its “offensive content”, with the government on Wednesday defending its move saying the publication contained material that denigrated several religions and religious figures.
Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, told Parliament on Wednesday that pictures in the book titled 'Red Lines: Political Cartoons And The Struggle Against Censorship' are offensive to Muslims even if they are published in the name of free speech, academia or otherwise.
He added that the book contained material that denigrated several religions and religious figures.
"The book also included images insulting to other religions. The authors may say that they do not intend for the publication to be insulting or demeaning, and their intention is to educate, but the government rejects that," the minister was quoted as saying by The Straits Times newspaper.
The book, by Hong Kong Baptist University's professor of media studies Cherian George and graphic novelist Sonny Liew, has already been distributed in other countries like the US.
The book by Prof. George, an Indian-origin media expert, examines political cartoons from all over the world and explains the various motivations for and methods of cartoon censorship.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said in November that the book, published in August, will not be allowed to be sold or distributed in Singapore, as it has been classified as objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act for containing content that denigrates religions.
This includes reproductions of French magazine Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, which led to protests and violence overseas, as well as denigratory references pertaining to Hinduism and Christianity.
The demeaning and insulting images have led to rioting and deaths in several parts of the world, the minister said, adding that major publications have refrained from publishing them.
Singapore's harmonious race and religious relations require constant care and attention of the government and the society at large, and it is vital that every faith is treated with respect, Masagos said.
"We don't want to risk anything that will begin unravelling the peace and harmony we enjoy from the due respect and consideration everyone gives to others.
"We remain committed to working closely with all our religious communities to preserve and strengthen our racial and religious harmony, which is a bedrock of our cohesive society," Masagos said.
On Wednesday, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo stressed that the government does not allow any religious group to be insulted or attacked, as hate speech and offensive content can easily be normalised and lead to deep social divides if left unchecked.
"To preserve racial and religious harmony in Singapore, we take a firm stance on such content regardless of their purpose of publication," she said responding to questions in Parliament.