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A chonky issue: From 377A to the Budget to Ukraine

Lots to cover this week! Singapore takes a firm stance against Russia, the Court of Appeal dismisses constitutional challenges to S377A, and the Budget debates surface all sorts of things.

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
6 min read

This week’s wrap is going to be a bit of a long one, since there were a couple of notable human rights-related developments, plus the Budget debates. Bear with!

This past week, a report that I contributed to was launched. Here is FIDH’s report on freedom of peaceful assembly (or lack thereof) in Singapore. There’s also a short video, which you can watch here:


From Singapore to Ukraine

Singapore has taken a strong position against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan described it as a “clear and gross” violation of international norms. In a rare move, Singapore will impose sanctions on Russia — particularly targeting exports of things that can be used as weapons against the Ukrainians. Balakrishnan said that there would also be blocks on Russian banks and certain transactions related to Russia. More specific details should be coming.

There are, as far as we know, six Singaporeans still in Ukraine. Balakrishnan had said at the end of February that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was aware of nine Singaporeans in the country. Three have since been evacuated. The actor Ix Shen is one of the Singaporeans still in Ukraine — he’s been providing updates of the situation in Kyiv, where he lives with his Ukrainian wife. I grew up watching him on local TV dramas, and it’s a little bit surreal seeing him post video snippets in English and Mandarin from a city under attack.

The Russian embassy in Singapore is naturally not happy about us taking such a strong stance, but they’re not going to get much sympathy, orhbigood. While they’re trying to defend the indefensible, 10 ambassadors and high commissioners in Singapore have issued an op-ed denouncing the invasion.


S377A is unenforceable, says Court of Appeal. So?

The Court of Appeal dismissed constitutional challenges to Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men. They said that the applicants — three gay men — had no standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law, since there was no real threat of being prosecuted under it.

The court pointed to a 2018 statement by Attorney-General Lucien Wong laying out a policy not to prosecute sexual relations between consenting adults under S377A. Until the AG indicates a shift in this prosecutorial position, the court said, S377A is unenforceable in its entirety, and it is therefore unnecessary to address the question of constitutionality.

How are we a country that respects rule of law when the government and AG can simply announce they aren't going to enforce legislation that's on the books? And the courts then point to this to say that three men who are affected by the law's existence (and all its trickle-down implications) don't have standing to challenge it unless the AG changes his mind and decides to enforce the law again?

As Pink Dot said in their statement, the court's ruling has "left the LGBTQ+ community behind yet again, without any adequate remedy or relief from the ongoing discriminatory effects of Section 377A."

In Parliament, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the government will consider the "best way forward", while respecting different viewpoints. While he at the very least recognised that LGBT people face hurt and rejection, and that LGBT people shouldn't be attacked or threatened, it's not entirely clear at this point what their idea of the "best way forward" is.


Death penalty updates

Four men on death row had court hearings this past week: Roslan, Pausi, Rosman and Nagaenthran (Nagen). Again, if you haven’t read them yet, here are the previous two special issues on fears of more executions and on access to justice of persons with disabilities.

The courts reserved judgement on both the hearings for Roslan, Pausi and Rosman, and for Nagen, so the stays of execution are thankfully still in place for now. The Transformative Justice Collective has a summary of what was said at Nagen’s hearing; I couldn’t be in court in person but was really infuriated to read about what was said. Nagen’s lawyer, Violet Netto, was seeking a further stay of execution for Nagen pending an assessment by an independent panel of psychiatrists, but the court said that evidence of Nagen’s mental deterioration would have to be provided before they could authorise that. But the whole point of an independent assessment is to get such evidence! Frustratingly, the court also referred to prison medical records as objective evidence, but Nagen, his lawyer and his family haven’t actually seen these records yet and they aren’t independent assessments.

While the judges haven’t ruled yet, they also said during the hearing that domestic laws don’t prevent people with “abnormality of mind” from getting hanged. As Human Rights Watch points out, executing someone with a psychosocial disability is not in line with international law and practice.

So that’s where we are with the death row cases, but we have more death penalty-related news this week. On Thursday, K Shanmugam brought up preliminary findings from a government survey to say that most Singaporeans support the use of the death penalty and agree that it’s a deterrent. I guess if you repeatedly tell people something while suppressing alternative views, then survey people to ask their opinion on that something, you get... this?

The Ministry of Home Affairs also commissioned a study last year in the regions where most of the drug traffickers arrested in Singapore have come from. Notably, Shanmugam did not say which regions these were — why not? He argued that, since majority of the respondents in those regions believe that the death penalty deters people from trafficking substantial amounts of drugs in Singapore, therefore the death penalty is a deterrence.

And of course, we haven’t seen any information about the survey methodology or research process.

Criminologists wept.


Budgety discussions

The Budget debates are going on, so there are lots and lots of things being discussed in Parliament. It'd be overwhelming to mention everything, so I’ve picked those that leapt out at me.

Seven parliamentarians have had to sit out these debates, since they’re down with Covid.

It's apparently too difficult for us to legislate that domestic workers should have a fixed 24-hours off work on their rest days. Domestic workers are entitled to a compulsory rest day a week. Employers are currently allowed to compensate them with cash in lieu of this day off, but the Ministry of Manpower has indicated that, by the end of the year, workers will have to be given one rest off per month that can't be compensated with money. They're not going to prescribe a set number of hours of uninterrupted rest, though. This is an issue because, as HOME notes, many workers are still required to work on their rest day. They're required to do chores before they can go out for the day, and have to return before a curfew. How's that a proper day off?

Janil Putucheary says that TraceTogether is going to hang around until Covid-19 is "no longer epidemic". He says it'll be in place until we don't need vaccination-differentiated measures, although there are ways to demonstrate vaccination status without having to use the tracking technology of TraceTogether. He also says contact-tracing has saved lives; sure, but are we still contact-tracing in a way that requires TraceTogether?

The Workers’ Party are opposing the Budget, because they don’t approve of the GST hike. The Progress Singapore Party is also against the GST hike. But Finance Minister Lawrence Wong insists that it’s not true that raising the GST hurts the poor, and that there are pressing revenue needs.

West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng got roasted online after he suggested that degrees from Singaporean institutes of higher learning lapse after five years unless the individual takes a course to refresh their skills. After drawing the ire of Singaporeans online, he said that it wasn't a real proposal but just "food for thought". He later told The Straits Times that he apologises for being "more provocative than needed". As if the problem was how "provocative" the idea was.

Christopher De Souza has urged his party’s 4G leaders to hurry up and decide who the next prime minister is going to be. Question: did he decide to make that speech all by himself, or is there some reason the party needs someone to bring this up at this time? 🤔 Which do you think it is? Click an option below to vote:

✌🏼 He ownself want to ask
✍🏼 This kind of thing all planned one lah


And here we are! Thank you for reading this week’s wrap. As usual, feel free to forward or share it with anyone you like.

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Kirsten Han Twitter

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.