Why wasn't 'Messiah' charged for instigation

Why wasn't 'Messiah' charged for instigation

SINGAPORE - One "Messiah", several alleged hackings later, and now 25 other people are in trouble with the law.

Of these 25, who are aged between 17 and 45, five have been charged in court and the rest are assisting the police in investigations.

But why wasn't anyone charged in court as an instigator?

Four lawyers The New Paper spoke to said that hackers who leave messages calling for an unlawful assembly can be considered as instigators and be charged as if they had committed the crime themselves.

Role played

Speaking in general, lawyer Shashi Nathan from KhattarWong said there are laws here that recognise the role played by instigators.

Said Mr Nathan: "A person can be charged with abetment of an offence that he or she instigated.

"Ultimately, it depends on the role he or she played in instigating others."

A section in the Penal Code states that a person who makes any document or electronic record containing an incitement to violence or breach of peace shall be punished with up to five years in jail or a fine, or both.

Criminal lawyer Luke Lee said that the instigator will be treated as if he or she committed the crime and can be given the same punishment.

To lawyer Sunil Sudheesan from RHT Law LLP, instigators should be punished the most if it can be established that they play the role of the mastermind.

But he added: "If the instigator puts the idea out there, but doesn't act on it, then he or she cannot be considered as having played a leadership role."

Penalties also differ from case to case, said Mr Sudheesan.

This is because there are several factors in play when it comes to tackling online instigators.

Determination

Said Mr Sudheesan: "It first depends on what the person has done in the first place to get the message out."

This could show the determination of the instigator to spread the message to his or her intended audience.

The intention of the instigator matters too, he said.

Last year, a 36-year-old man was jailed for two months for the offence of incitement to violence, after he made an online posting on assassinating then-deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng.

In this case, he was initially fined $6,000 when the district judge concluded that his intention in making the posting was to seek attention rather than incite violence.

But the prosecution appealed against the sentence.

A High Court judge then raised the sentence to two months in jail, after he decided that the man had intended to incite violence with the posting, given the scenes in the video and the man's comment about re-enacting it at the National Day Parade.

Jest or prank

"Courts must determine if it was made in jest or as a prank," said Mr Sudheesan.

It also depends on the severity of what was instigated.

He said: "If I tell everyone to book seats at the coffee shop by putting packets of tissue paper on all the tables, that is incitement. But I'm not punishable because what I did was not severe enough."

To see if a person has instigated others to commit crimes, one only needs to see if a concerted plan was organised for the purpose of canvassing for participants, lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said.

"It is like a conspiracy," said Ms James, who manages law firm Gloria James-Civetta & Co.

Sedition

In cases of sedition, for instance, all that is required to pin a person for sedition is if the person simply talked about sowing discord, said Mr Nathan.

He said: "If he fanned the flames, even though he did not tell others to start a riot per se, he can be charged with sedition."

The police declined to comment as the case is before the court and investigations are ongoing.


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