Discrimination against gays in Singapore – police raid raises question

30 Apr

Bearing in mind that Singapore continues to criminalize same sex behaviour with the arcane colonial legislation, 377A, a police raid last year on a mens – only gym and club/ sauna infers that gay businesses and gays can still be discriminated and legally prosecuted if the authorities decide to do so.

Discrimination against gays in Singapore operate at various levels perpetuated by different sectors of society.

The latest AWARE saga where Dr Thio Su Mien accuses the feminist organisation of advocating lesbianism is only one instance amongst others in recent years. Dr Thio, by the way, was Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Singapore and even held judgeships in the administrative tribunals of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for various terms.

Her daughter, a former Nominated Member of Parliament and lawyer, Dr Thio Li Ann, is also an ardent opponent against gay rights in Singapore. When the debate on 377A came up in Parliament in 2007, she was vehemently against the repeal and distastefully compared anal sex as ‘shoving a straw up your nose to drink’. Ironically, she is a professor of law in Singapore’s National University, specialising in international human rights law. It beggars belief that someone who is supposedly learned in this field should display such ignorance on gay rights.

And there is Yvonne C. L. Lee who recently wrote a paper on the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, justifying the retention of 377A, entitled, ‘ “Don’t Ever Take a Fence Down Until You Know the Reason It Was Put Up” – Singapore Communitarianism and the Case for Conserving 377A’.

It appears therefore that there is at least a small group of outspoken lawyers in Singapore who are intent to prevent gays from exercising their rights even though one would expect the reverse to be true. If lawyers are supposedly learned in law and therefore legalism, they should also be knowledgeable of the impact of these laws on law- abiding citizens. Not only does 377A silences gays and makes their live miserable, it makes a mockery of the legal system and makes the city state backward in outlook. Thankfully, the above-mentioned lawyers are a minority within their profession. The Law Society of Singapore , when consulted, advised the government that “the retention of s.377A in its present form cannot be justified.”

It is not just the lawyers but accreditated media journalists that are sometimes guilty of depicting gays as ‘undesirables’. In 2004, Lianhe Wanbao (a local Mandarin newspaper) published sensational stories stereotyping gays as promiscuous sex or drug addicts. You can read the English translation of these stories from Yawning Bread’s archive, ‘Gay bar gets more decadent with the night’ and ‘Wanbao’s 5-part report on gay saunas and bars’.

However, this latest police raid on the gay sauna crosses the line. According to the news source, the police officers refused to identify themselves nor explain the purpose of their visit. They also accused the owner of trumped up charges of ‘biting’ but later dropped them given they do not have any evidence. The owner has since been fined in the tens of thousands for possession of obscene and uncensored DVDs.

This episode has shown the arbitrariness of the criminal justice system and calls into question the integrity of the police force. Did the police officers have a warrant in the first place to enter a registered business venue? Trumped-up charges made up by any police officers is a serious matter that deserve  an impartial investigation. And there is the question of 377A; as well as laws on posession of pornography or even ordinary film materials, both of which are heavily regulated (the former, banned) in the city state. Does Singapore needs laws against possession of pornography when people are likely to access them online?


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