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Is S377A really on its way out?

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
4 min read

I’m happy this week because I’m finally back working on my book again! It’s not going very quickly and I’m probably going to have to be editing through the weekend, but at least it’s happening, which is more than I could have said for so much for this year. I’ve been dealing with a lot of self-imposed guilt about it so this is actually a real relief for me.


Is the PAP finally ready for repeal?

There’s been quite a bit of coverage and commentary on Section 377A in the media recently, which can be taken as a sign that there’s going to be some movement on it soon. (There’ve certainly been enough rumblings in civil society circles.) It looks likely that Lee Hsien Loong is going to mention it during the National Day Rally tomorrow, alongside points on geopolitics and economic concerns. I’m guessing that Lee will announce the repeal of 377A, but offer something to appease the religious conservatives who have been fretting that the LGBTQ community will start demanding marriage equality right away. One possibility would be to constitutionalise the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, which would mean that all other laws and policies will have fall in line with this definition. Personally, while I agree that it’s better for S377A to be repealed than not, such a scenario would be a Pyrrhic victory—the main thrust behind the need to repeal S377A was because it functions as a symbol that legitimises discrimination and prejudice against the LGBTQ community in Singapore. If we’re just getting rid of S377A but enshrining the discrimination in other legislation and possibly even the Constitution, then the repeal of S377A will be a much tinier step forward than it will look.

Let’s see what comes up during Lee’s speech.


What does WP have to say about the death penalty?

Pritam Singh, the leader of the Workers’ Party, has written an op-ed on the death penalty. He advised against the government’s potential plans to introduce new legislation to deal with “abuse of court process” in late-stage legal applications for death row prisoners and says that there “remains room to improve specific aspects of the criminal justice system”. But he concludes that there is public support for the death penalty for drugs and that “drug traffickers continue to be viewed as criminals who must face up to harsh consequences for destroying many innocent lives and families.” Ultimately, it’s kind of a neither-here-nor-there piece, which basically describes the Workers’ Party’s general position on capital punishment.

I’m not surprised that WP wouldn’t come out strong on the death penalty issue even if the party was generally sympathetic to abolitionist arguments (which might not actually be the case). Generally speaking, capital punishment is not an issue that parties want to expend their political capital on—it’s not seen as something that would win them votes, and might even lose them votes, so why take this risk? But what irked me about the op-ed is how easily and at face value the claim that “the death penalty deters drugs” was taken, when there is really no clear evidence that this is actually the case. The way we talk about drugs is also so inconsistent with the ways that we talk about other addictive substances or harmful behaviours, like alcohol or smoking or gambling or addiction to prescription meds or pornography, and that leads to us pursuing a punitive drug policy that continues to inflict harm on drug users, rather than providing them a supportive environment for treatment and meaningful recovery journeys.

Pritam Singh’s op-ed also perpetuates this pervasive narrative that abolitionists are idealists who, while intentioned, are swept up by the emotions of imminent executions without giving thought to “faceless innocent families and addicts” whose lives have been destroyed by drugs. But if anyone actually paid attention to what we’re saying, it’s clear that what we’re saying is that the death penalty for drugs is part of a broader drug policy that doesn’t help drug users and their families. And these people aren’t “faceless” either. They look like Abdul Kahar bin Othman and Nazeri bin Lajim, and many others who members of the Transformative Justice Collective have interviewed and spoken with, including for our report on prison conditions.

Also, this idea that there is overwhelming public support for the death penalty for drugs might not be as solid as we think it is. A recent survey by Black Dot Research found that only 49% of people support the use of the death penalty for drug trafficking. For people under 35, only 33% said that they support the death penalty for drugs. This isn’t widespread public support—it isn’t even a majority!


When will Lawrence Wong become PM?

In an interview with Bloomberg’s chief editor, Lawrence Wong said he could assume the premiership either before or after the next general election, which is useless in terms of providing any useful information.


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Checking in on the neighbours

🇮🇩 The Indonesian government is planning to implement harsh laws in relation to online content moderation. They want to make digital platforms register with the government, and will require these platforms to take down content that the government deems “unlawful”, which covers a very broad range of content, within a short amount of time. Companies that fail to comply could be fined or blocked. Once again, it’s a problem of expanding state power in online space through the use of very broad laws with onerous requirements.


I used to share fun things at the end of newsletter issues and I realised I haven’t done it in awhile, so sharing one of the bops that’s been an ear-worm this past week:

Thank you for reading this week! As always, please help me spread the word about this newsletter by sharing it widely.

Weekly Wraps

Kirsten Han Twitter

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.


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