I read with interest Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam’s statement – in light of the Orlando shooting at a gay club – when he said that, “violence against any group, in any form, is not acceptable. Here, the Government will act decisively if there is threat of violence against anyone or any group.”
He also said: “The Government’s duty is to protect everyone – their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, that’s not relevant.”
The Singapore Government’s Upholding of 377A Perpetuates Violence against LGBT and Does Not Protect Them – 377A has to be Abolished
Upfront, Mr Shanmugam said that,”The Government’s duty is to protect everyone,” and he said that, “their race, their religion, (and importantly, that) their sexual orientation, that’s not relevant”.
Now, according to the United Nations (UN), “States that criminalize consensual homosexual acts are in breach of international human rights law since these laws, by their mere existence, violate the rights to privacy and non-discrimination.
“Human rights mechanisms continue to emphasize links between criminalization and homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, police abuse, torture, family and community violence and stigmatization, … these laws may give a pretext to vigilante groups and other perpetrators of hatred for intimidating people and committing acts of violence.”
Indeed, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez, had earlier this year “pointed to the clear link between the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and the violence and stigma these groups face”.
However, Singapore continues to retain section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalizes consensual same-sex relations between men.
If Mr Shanmugam is sincere in his words, then the government has to abolish 377A, and to “act decisively against the threat of violence” that LGBT people face and “protect” them.
As Mr. Méndez said, “States are complicit in the violence women and LGBT groups face if they implement discriminatory laws that trap these people in a spiral of abuse.”
As such, the Singapore government has to act to stop such complicity.
The UN added that, “In some cases, these laws have been accompanied by bans on non-governmental organizations receiving funding from abroad, allegedly in order to curb the influence of “foreign agents”. Such measures put defenders at risk of arrest, violence and discrimination, and can threaten rights relating to, inter alia, health, education, cultural expression and information.
“In some States, (“pride”) events are denied police protection or permits, sometimes under guise of threats to public morals or safety, abrogating the State’s duty to uphold freedom of assembly and to protect LGBT persons from violence.”
With relevance, last week the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) released a statement, which said that: “The Ministry of Home Affairs will take steps to make it clear that foreign entities should not fund, support or influence such events held at the Speakers’ Corner (a small park which is the only allowed space for protests in Singapore).
“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves.
“LGBT issues are one such example,” MHA said.
Clearly, such disguised curbs would place LGBT persons at risk of “violence” and Singapore’s continued insistence on this will not “protect” LGBT Singaporeans and the government would have reneged on its “duty”, which was what Mr Shanmugam claimed that the government would uphold.
The government’s implict empowerment of vigilante groups such as the ‘Wear White’ and ‘We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore‘ movements which harass and intimidate LGBT persons also legitimises the violence against LGBT persons and place LGBT persons at risk.
The outcome of the legitimisation of such victimisation and discrimination have led to the formation of groups such as ‘Say NO to Foreign Intervention in Singapore’s Politics‘ and their petition where they demand of the government to “Investigate and stop all foreign funding into events and set-ups of a political nature” and to “Warn/punish (these) foreign companies”.
MHA’s statement “on Foreign Sponsorships for Pink Dot 2016” was released after this petition came out.
The existence of such hate groups and the state’s implicit tolerance of them thus fuel the violence against LGBT persons.
Already, the violence has already taken a more sinister turn when a certain Bryan Lim had posted on Facebook: “I am a Singaporean citizen. I am a NSman (military serviceman). I am a father. And I swore to protect my nation. Give me the permission to open fire. I would like to see these £@€$^*s die for their causes.” Police reports have been made against him and he is now under police investigation.
And just days ago, the Singapore Media Development Authority (MDA) also asked the musical Les Misérables – which is playing in Singapore – to remove a scene where two men kissed, due to complaints apparently from members of the public. The irony of it, it has been found, is that the kissing scene was actually an act of bullying enacted by one man against another.
One is reminded of Omar Mateen who had killed 49 people in the Orlando Shooting at the gay club Pulse four days ago, and who was said by his father, Seddique Mir Mateen, to have “got(ten) very angry” when he saw “two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid,” and which his father believed could have spurred his deadly actions.
The #TwoMenKissing hashtag which has spawned is therefore directly relevant to Singapore and the Singapore government’s state-sanctioned violence against LGBT.
The government’s continued allowance of itself to be pandered to by the interests of such hate groups and its insistence on retaining 377A will not only allow the Bryan Lims to continue to fester but is innately dangerous when one day, individuals in Singapore would “open” real “fire” at LGBT persons in Singapore, as has happened in Orlando.
On top of that, Omar Mateen is now known to could have been gay himself. It was found in a study conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara that people who are homophobic are more likely to be gay.
“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author, explained.
“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” said co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
“Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences,” Professor Ryan also said. This has been exemplified by the Orlando Shooting – America’s worst mass shooting in recent times.
The study also concluded that, such internalised “(self-)homophobia is more pronounced in individuals … who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires”. As such, the rejection and discrimination that LGBT persons face and the internalisation of it can have dire consequences.
As the UN also stated, “States’ responsibility to protect individuals from discrimination extends to the family sphere, where rejection and discriminatory treatment of and violence against LGBT and intersex family members can have serious, negative consequences for the enjoyment of human rights.”
The Orlando Shooting is therefore a grave reminder of the discrimination and violence that LGBT persons in Singapore face and if Mr Shanmugam’s claim of protecting Singaporeans hold true, then the Singapore government has to take the immediate step of abolishing 377A, to protect LGBT persons, and the social fabric in Singapore.
The UN makes a lists of 11 recommendations that states should do to address discrimination. Notably, the first three of which are by:
- Revising criminal laws to remove offences relating to consensual same-sex conduct and other offences used to arrest and punish persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression; ordering an immediate moratorium on related prosecution; and expunging the criminal records of individuals convicted of such offences;
- Repealing so-called “anti-propaganda” and other laws that impose discriminatory restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly;
- Ensuring that anti-discrimination legislation includes sexual orientation and gender identity among prohibited grounds, and also protects intersex persons from discrimination.
The LGBT community in Singapore is watching the next moves by the Singapore government and whether Mr Shanmugam’s words will translate into real action or will they only be empty gestures.
Will the Government Protect Singaporeans from State Violence?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Collective violence is subdivided into social, political and economic violence.”
Also, “collective violence suggest possible motives for violence committed by larger groups of individuals or by states”.
WHO also states that, “People may fear actively debating such issues as social policy or campaigning on behalf of marginalized or vulnerable groups. This is likely to be even more the case under undemocratic political regimes and where state violence is being threatened against perceived opponents of the regime.”
In light of Mr Shanmugam’s proclamation that the government will protect everyone from violence against any group and in any form, it is worthwhile revisiting some issues in Singapore.
In 1963, the Singapore government arrested 100 innocent Singaporeans and accused them as being part of a Communist conspiracy. In 1987, the government repeated this and arrested more than 20 innocent Singaporeans and accused them of being part of a Marxist conspiracy to “subvert the existing system of government and to seize power in Singapore”. It has been proven that both charges were fabricated by the government. In between, hundreds and an estimated more than two thousand innocent Singaporeans were also arrested and all were imprisoned and detained without a fair trial.
The longest-serving political prisoner from the 1963 arrests is Dr Chia Thye Poh who was imprisoned for 32 years – even longer than Nelson Mandela, making Dr Chia possibly the longest-serving political prisoner in the world. Ms Teo Soh Lung was imprisoned for a total of more than 2 years – she was the longest-serving political prisoner from the 1987 arrests.
The government continues to deny that the detaining of those under the two fabricated conspiracies is wrongful.
Two weeks ago, Soh Lung and I were hauled to the police station on unfounded accusations. We were interrogated and the police raided our homes and took our things even though we have committed no crime or offence, nor did the police charge us and they had no search warrants.
I was also made to give the police access to my laptop and phone (which included the chat applications on it), as well as my Facebook, Gmail and WordPress. At all times, the police threatened Soh Lung and I by saying that we were being interrogated for an “arrestable offence” and that they could arrest anytime.
The police did threaten to arrest Soh Lung when she refused to give them her laptop and phone – the police eventually took them. Soh Lung’s friends could enter her home but the police refused to let activists enter my own home. They even wanted to enter my mom’s room to search her room, if not because she stopped them. The police harassed and intimidated us – I was held for 8 hours.
But this was not my first brush with the government’s and police’s persecution. Two years ago, I was sued by the Singapore prime minister over an article that I had written which questioned the lack of transparency by the Singapore government on its management of Singaporeans’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension funds. I was then fired from my job and the government (and the hospital that I worked at) sent out press releases to support the firing whilst alluding to the defamation suit. When I joined a protest to advocate for greater transparency on the funds management, I was charged and fined S$1,900. For the defamation suit from the prime minister, I have been ordered to pay him S$180,000 until 2033 – for the next 17 years. All this while, the government used the mainstream and online media that it controlled to run a smear campaign against me.
But our persecution is part of a string of persecutions conducted by the Singapore government against Singaporeans, for more than the past 60 years – even prior to Singapore’s independence. I was the first blogger and non-politician in Singapore to be sued by the prime minister. But before me, several opposition politicians – J.B. Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong and Dr Chee Soon Juan – were sued by the Singapore prime ministers. Both Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee were sued and made bankrupt. Dr Chee was sued by all three post-independence prime ministers.
Several international media – Far Eastern Economic Review and International Herald Tribune – were also sued. The New York Times Company was also threatened with a lawsuit. All these defamation suits ended with huge damages – running up to the millions – that those sued were ordered to pay.
Over the past few years, there have been more fervent crackdowns by the Singapore government against ordinary Singaporeans. Several bloggers and online commenters have been charged (or threatened to be charged) with defamation, sedition, contempt of court among others. The Australian-Japanese ex-editor of The Real Singapore – previously one of the top news site in Singapore and which was forced to shut down – was jailed for 10 months. She was three-months pregnant when she went into prison. Her Singaporean husband is still awaiting his sentencing.
Clearly, all of us have faced violence committed by the stated, simply for being “perceived opponents of the regime”.
The WHO also stated that “the larger societal factors that influence rates of violence” are such as “norms that support the use of excessive force by police against citizens”.
The latest harassment and intimidation that Soh Lung and I face therefore represent the continued violence and persecution enacted by the government – and this time, by the police – against us innocent Singaporeans.
Our rights were taken away and our homes were raided – which amounts to the trespassing of our homes.
As such, in view of the violence that we face from the state, would Mr Shanmugam protect us, as he said it is the government’s duty to do so? Or will we continue to face the government’s persecution?
Mr Shanmugam’s words can only be taken seriously when the government admits to its wrongdoings in the past and its wrongful arrests and actions, and to stop any form of state violence against innocent Singaporeans such as Soh Lung and I.
Soh Lung and I have been accused of breaking the law, for putting up posts on our Facebook and me on my blog, on the day before the recent Bukit Batok by-election. The exception in the law (known as the Cooling-Off Day) allows for individuals – like Soh Lung and I – to share our personal political views, on a non-commercial basis, on the Internet.
Only candidates who are running for elections are not allowed to campaign on this designated Cooling-Off Day. The government’s hypocrisy is exposed in its persecution against Soh Lung and I even though we are innocent, but where two of the ruling party’s politicians – Tin Pei Ling and Vivian Balakrishnan – who had clearly broken the law when they were running for their respective elections, no police reports were made against them and they were allowed to go scot-free.
Add to that, a Facebook page which is pro-the ruling party – Fabrications About the PAP (FPAP) – had also broken the law at this recent by-election and even with feedback made to the Election Department (who made the police report against Soh Lung and I) and police reports made against FPAP, no action has been taken against the contributors to the page.
Strangely, when the Election Department made a police report against Soh Lung and I, it released a press statement and described us as “two individuals (who) also regularly engage in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues,” as if trying to frame this as a crime.
And even as police investigations are still ongoing, the Election Department and the police also shockingly released a joint statement, and claimed that there were “what appeared to be deliberate and serious breaches of the rules” even as the police said in the same statement that they were still “conducting their investigations”.
In the same statement, the Election Department and police instead shielded PAP politicians Tin Pei Ling and Vivian Balakrishnan from any wrongdoing by claiming that “the (past) breaches were found to be unintentional”.
It is the impunity of this current government and ruling party which has been in power for more than the past 50 years which has allowed it to blatantly showcase such a conflict of interest and which they have no qualms doing.
Will the Government Protect Singaporeans from Social and Economic Violence?
WHO went on to continue to describe the “larger societal factors that influence rates of violence”.
WHO explained that “factors that create an acceptable climate for violence (and) those that reduce inhibitions against violence” are such as “Larger societal factors (that) also include the health, educational, economic and social policies that maintain high levels of economic or social inequality between groups in society”.
“Most of the victims (of ill-treatment) appeared to have been people suspected or convicted of criminal offences, and most of the torturers were police officers.
“In the absence of proper training and investigative mechanisms, police may resort to torture or ill-treatment to extract confessions quickly and obtain convictions.
Soh Lung and my case are case in point, in that we were held under duress by the police and where the police tried to use force to extract confessions from us.
In the interrogations, the police asked me a question as if to want me to self-incriminate myself. The police asked: “It is an offence at any time on polling day and eve of polling day to publish, or knowingly cause or permit to be published, any elections advertising in or among any electors in the electoral division.
“Why did you publish this post?” the police asked.
By the phrasing of the question, the expectation was that I should confess and admit to wrongdoing which I did not do.
Both Soh Lung and I maintain that we are innocent and that the police have overstepped their boundaries and violated our rights.
But more importantly, WHO stated that, “poverty and inequality are among the driving forces in violent conflict and that long periods of conflict may increase poverty – in turn creating the conditions that give rise to other forms of violence”.
“Research consistently suggests that people with the lowest socioeconomic status are at greatest risk.
WHO names the “lack of education” and “unemployment”, and “The rate at which people enter into poverty – losing resources that were previously available – and the differential way in which they experience poverty (that is, their relative deprivation within a particular setting rather than their absolute level of poverty) (that) are also important.”
Among the developed nations, Singapore today has the highest income inequality and poverty rate – estimated to be as high as 35 percent by economists and academics. However, instead of addressing the issue, the government has refused to define a poverty line and claimed that income inequality has stabilised when it is high. Worse, the government has fudged the income inequality statistics to make inequality look lower than it is.
Today, the Singapore government spends the least on healthcare, education and social protection among the developed nations. Instead, Singaporeans have to pay the highest out-of-pocket expenditure for health and pay for one of the most expensive childcare and university fees in the world. Singaporeans pay equivalent in tax and social security as the Nordic citizens but where they get back free healthcare and education, and adequate pension, Singaporeans have to pay double for what they should get back for free. Singaporeans also have one of the least adequate pension funds in the world.
As WHO also puts, “older people are viewed as targets for abuse and exploitation, their vulnerability being a result of poverty distinguished by a lack of pension support and job opportunities”.
This puts the Singapore’s government lowest expenditure on social protection among the developed nations, the inadequate pension funds and the resultant poverty a real threat to the violence that elderly Singaporeans and the larger population face.
In addition, the Singapore government’s lack of transparency and its usage of Singaporeans’ pension funds for investment whilst hiding it from Singaporeans therefore perpetuates the downstream violence against Singaporeans.
WHO also detailed how “laws intended to protect labour have been weakened or discarded, and a substantial decline in basic infrastructure and social services has occurred”, and these “changing social policies have all been linked with an increase in youth violence”.
Indeed, Singapore is today one of the very few countries in the world without minimum wage and unemployment benefits, and we have one of the least adequate employment legislation protection among the developed nations, leaving Singaporeans with scant labour protection – and therefore increased opportunities for violence.
According to the WHO, “At the most basic level, greater importance must be attached to primary prevention. This requires building a society in which older people are allowed to live out their lives in dignity, adequately provided with the necessities of life and with genuine opportunities for self-fulfilment.
“Among the policies needed to reduce the potential for violent conflicts in the world, of whatever type, are … Reducing poverty, both in absolute and relative terms, (and) Reducing inequality between groups in society.”
The WHO added that, “the fact that violence is linked with poverty may be an additional reason why policy-makers and government authorities have neglected public health approaches to violence – approaches that would mean a greater proportion of services and resources going to poor families and communities – in favour of policing and prisons. This neglect must be corrected if violence is to be prevented.”
Not only does Singapore have the highest income inequality among the developed nations, we also have the highest prisoner rate, after America. We also have one of the lowest social mobilities, which exacerbates poverty in Singapore (which has been growing over the past 20 years).
As such, it is useful to note that Mr Shanmugam has recognised that “violence … is not acceptable” and that the “the Government will act decisively if there is threat of violence against anyone or any group”.
But in view of the violence that Singaporeans face – due to poor social and economic policies which cause Singaporeans to languish into poverty and the possible descend into violence, there is an urgent need for the Singapore government to address these root causes of violence and enact policies to protect Singaporeans – as Mr Shanmugam had said is the duty of the government to do.
By policies to protect Singaporeans, this means to dramatically increase social protection expenditure to reduce the income inequality and poverty that plagues Singaporeans today, and as I had shown, there is a sustainable pool of resources to do so, without the need to increase taxes.
However, the Singapore government has shown itself to be resistant to do so. Strangely, it would rather accumulate large swaths of reserves to build the GIC and Temasek Holdings – the two government investments firms – to be the top 11 largest sovereign wealth funds in the world – all these on the back of Singaporeans’ pension funds while allowing Singaporeans to have the least adequate pension funds in the world. (The prime minister is the chairperson of GIC and his wife is the CEO of Temasek Holdings.)
Lopsided priorities, isn’t it?
If Mr Shanmugam is to be taken seriously in his claim that the government will protect everyone from violence against any group, and in any form, then the minister and the government have to put their money where the mouth is.
The government has to introduce social and economic policies to uplift the lives of Singaporeans and abolish laws which unfairly persecutes against Singaporeans, and entrenches the violence.
And for a start, the government has to drop its investigations against Soh Lung and I and stop perpetuating the state violence against us. We are innocent.
Our community and all Singaporeans have to come together to call out the state violence and demand the Singapore government stop its violence against Singaporeans.
It is the duty of Singaporeans to protect ourselves, and to protect one another.
Soh Lung and I were robbed of our rights, you have to learn how to protect yours. This Saturday, an event will be held to let you know about your rights and what you can do when faced with a situation that Soh Lung and I had to go through.
We were placed under interrogation and the police held me by force. They also raided our homes and took our belongings even though we have committed no crime. What the police did was wrong and cannot be allowed to happen again.
Go down to this event this Saturday, let your presence be known and stop the state from its impudent violence. Recent events have shown how Singaporeans have scant rights. We have to fight for our own protection. We have to fight for our own rights.
- Date: 18 June 2016 (Saturday)
- Time: 5pm – 7pm
- Venue: Speakers’ Corner (Hong Lim Park)