Crime and Appropriate Punishment


Disagreement on whether Rony Tan from Lighthouse Evangelism was punished appropriately created the occasional ripples in the Internet. “Let the punishment fit the crime” is the cornerstone for retributive justice systems, with the intention that there is proper deterrence and appropriate appeasement for the victims and survivors of the crime.

What is the alleged crime in Rony Tan’s case? For some Christians including those in his church, it would be to give Christianity a bad name, so soon after the AWARE hijack by Christian fundamentalists. Buddhists and Taoists would see that Rony’s crime was that he belittled their religion, especially since Rony was a church leader and was thus an irresponsible shepherd to his flock. However, despite Rony’s apology and its generous acceptance by representatives of those he insulted, the public still wanted Rony jailed rather than merely tarred and feathered in broad daylight in front of everybody. The pubic supposedly wanted consistency in treatment for Rony’s case as with past Sedition Act cases. although the situations were different, and Rony’s public apology was just not enough punishment.

However, what the mob wanted was not justice, they arguably wanted the severest penalties for Rony’s self-righteous insensitive foolishness, disproportionate even to the alleged “crime” Rony committed. The poll at Temasek Review, an opportunistic biased news blog which fanned the mob’s anger, testified to the mob’s demands for disproportionate punishment. More than 30% wanted Rony to be jailed under the Sedition Act and more troubling, was that another 30+% wanted the publicly repentant pastor to be detained under the ISA. Everybody forgot that the most appropriate law should be the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in the first place, something that was not listed in the Temasek Review poll. Moreover, that the ISA could even be considered as a suitable punishment for Rony is disturbing confirmation that the mob cannot be reasoned with. We should not give the government excuses to use the ISA and its powers of preventive detention unless it pertains to terrorism or espionage.

Some naturally should have different views, but I saw that Rony was punished severely enough for his transgression. He was publicly humiliated and ostracised, and his flock would see that the dragging of his name and church in public would be sufficient deterrence. The counter was that he was a church leader and thus his punishment should be more as he should have known better. However, that is precisely why his public apology and reputation scourging was appropriate punishment for Rony. Rony as a person in a position to influence, should not have his freedom taken away by being jailed and becoming a religious-political martyr, he should have his voice and credibility taken away instead, and that was achieved with the humiliating apology. Punishment comes in all shapes and sizes besides a fine and a stint in jail.

Nevertheless, the government has a social contract to fulfill and not only ensure that justice has been met, but to show that justice has been met as well. What is needed is something to appease all. Something between a warning and an apology, and a jail sentence. A gag or restriction order for a period under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Maybe that could be the deal maker.

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One response

  1. Pingback: The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 17 Feb 2010

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