RIGHTS advocates are questioning the intent of recent revisions to Singapore’s Public Order Act, which Pink Dot organisers say have resulted in their having to set up barricades and conduct identity checks during the July 1 gathering.
Amnesty International (AI) in a statement asked if the law tweaks were meant to suppress activism in Singapore, a country that criminalises sexual relations between men and that is often accused of discriminating against the LGBT.
“The amendment… increases the risk of criminalisation of peaceful assembly in Singapore and will stigmatise those who participate in these rallies, including LGBT people, instead of ensuring they are able to enjoy their human rights without discrimination,” the group said.
Pink Dot is an annual gathering for the LGBT that began in 2009, held in the so-called Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park – the only location in the city-state that citizens may stage a public protest. Since 2011 it has inspired similar events in Hong Kong, Penang and New York.
— PinkDotSG (@PinkDotSG) January 21, 2017
Earlier this week, its organisers in a statement said to comply with new requirements under the Act, they would have to set up barricades around the perimeter of the Speakers’ Corner and require attendees to show photo identifications to volunteers and security personnel before admission.
They added that while they will adhere to these requirements, they were doing so begrudgingly.
Pink Dot SG spokesman Paerin Choa said: “The set-up of barricades and check points around the park was the only measure deemed acceptable by the authorities; this was a decision taken out of our hands and is something we do not readily agree with.”
The group also noted with disapproval another rule under the law, which expressly bans non-Singapore residents or permanent residents from attending, organising or funding assemblies in the island state.
Chua said the rule would mean some groups, couples and friends who had wanted to join the event would now no longer be allowed to.
“But we have faith in Singapore. And Singaporeans will eventually come through as they always had in the past eight years.”
— NotOnlyVoices (@NotOnlyVoices) December 10, 2016
AI demanded clarification of the new requirements, asking if the same would be applied to all other public assemblies in the future.
“These measures are, in effect, yet another means of discouraging gatherings and protests by individuals and groups who challenge social and cultural norms or who express dissenting views.
“The organisation is particularly concerned that the new decision to impose identity checks on event participants sets a disturbing precedent,” AI said.
“Amnesty International calls on the Singaporean authorities to respect and protect the right to peaceful assembly and ensure that they work to facilitate peaceful demonstrations instead of creating more restrictions to silence communities, or their critics.”
Amendments to the Public Order Act giving police and other enforcers broad powers to limit or ban public assemblies were approved by Singapore’s Parliament in April this year.
Earlier in 2016, the Home Affairs Ministry said foreign sponsors would no longer be allowed to fund Pink Dot, forcing the organization to raise funds for the 2017 event through local donors. Despite the setback, however, the group successfully raised SGD201,000 (US$143,500) from more than 100 local companies, smashing its target in less than six weeks.
Homosexuality remains highly stigmatised in Singapore, with no anti-discrimination laws in place to protect the LGBT community. A study from 2014 found that 78.2 percent of Singaporeans felt sexual relations between two adults was “always” or “almost always” wrong.
During the country’s human rights record review at the UN last year, several states raised cases of discrimination against the LGBT.
While rarely enforced, male same-sex sexual acts remain illegal under Section 377A of the Penal Code. A review of the country’s penal code in 2007 reinforced that anal sex between men remained an offence as “gross indecency.”
Same-sex couples are also not recognised under Singaporean law, restricting their ability to purchase property and access other legal rights. It is illegal for same-sex couples to adopt a child.
Pink Dot Singapore is in its ninth year.