How is everyone's Lunar New Year prep going? Have you been spring-cleaning? I haven't, really, although I did take out some clothes that I never wear anymore and put them in a box to (eventually) give away. Does that count?
There was meant to be a public SG for Palestine in solidarity with the people of Gaza last night. The event organisers were calling on the Singapore government to do the following:
- Stop buying Israeli arms.
- Stop Singaporean partnerships with Israeli institutions.
- Stop all diplomatic relations with Israel.
- Stop participating US-led attacks in the Red Sea.
- Stop police investigations into peaceful expressions of support for Palestine.
Just days before the event, the police informed organisers that the event would require a permit—which they were not willing to issue—because it had to do with “race and religion”. There was no explanation as to how they'd decided that the event was about race and religion, although I can guess at what they might say. It’s super disappointing, because it’s clear that the distress and outrage at the violence we’re seeing visited upon Gaza day after day is felt by Singaporeans from all walks of life. It’s not about race or religion, but about human life and stopping genocide. It is absolutely understandable and legitimate that many Singaporeans feel strongly about this and want to do something.
Also, this is nothing new but it’s just ridiculous how much power the police have to deprive Singaporeans of our fundamental right to freedom of expression and assembly. They get to decide what is or isn’t “cause-related”, they get to decide what is about race or religion, they get to decide whether or not to issue the permit, and, even if they do issue one, they can stipulate conditions. Their “assessment” goes, even if you’ve sought your own legal advice, as SG for Palestine did:
“We informed the police that we had received legal advice that our event would not be affected by the race/religion clause under the Public Order Act because it is about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and calls on the Singapore government to take action to stop the genocide—it has nothing to with race or religion—but the police just told us to inform our lawyer of their “assessment”.
Our lawyer then tried to contact the police officer who is handling the case, but they were difficult to reach. Our lawyer has written to the police to ask for the reasons for their “assessment”, and on what grounds the police would be willing to change their assessment of the event, and/or grant us a permit. We have not received a response yet.”
Singaporeans have every right to care about what’s going on in other parts of the world, and to feel moved to take action. As long as our actions are non-violent and don’t hurt anyone, we should have the right to organise and mobilise. Clamping down on anything that might be sensitive or controversial doesn’t actually foster harmony in society; it just drives frustrations deeper and deeper underground, and keeps our society immature because we never get to practice navigating conflict without overzealous state intervention.
Still, the police's late-stage interference wasn't enough to stop everyone. Instead of the public event at the Projector, last night I was invited to a private event in solidarity with Palestine, held in the middle of an industrial estate. Despite it being invite-only, the venue was packed. There were speeches, protest chants and an open mic session for people to share their thoughts.
“Stay… stand up for what you believe in.” So said Janil Puthucheary, senior minister of state for information and communications and health.
This was at the Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Perspectives 2024 conference, and Clement Tan, spokesperson for Pink Dot, had asked if the minister might have a message for young LGBTQ+ Singaporeans who “do not believe that there is a future for them here” because of barriers blocking queer Singaporeans from equal access to home ownership and the ability to form a family.
“My message is stay, fight, stand up for what you believe in—in a way that brings inclusion, brings every Singaporean with you on that journey, and to make our society better for your community,” CNA reported Puthucheary saying. He added that not all Singaporeans might agree on what “better” means, but told young queer Singaporeans that “[if] you leave, you take your ideas and your views with you. That's not going to help your cause.”
I’m sure the minister intended to sound like he was being encouraging and a friend to young queer people, but this is a very frustrating thing to see come out of a PAP minister’s mouth. Sure, it was a PAP government that finally repealed Section 377A—after years of work and effort from the LGBTQ+ community, mind you—and there are conservative and religious Singaporeans who have made homophobia their whole personality, but the fact remains that it is the PAP that is implementing and maintaining these barriers that discriminate against and exclude queer Singaporeans. It’s pretty hypocritical to be the source of the problem, then tell people to stay and fight.
And what does the PAP mean when they say “fight”, anyway? Just look at the previous section, and how many obstacles are thrown in the way of Singaporeans who do want to stand up for what we believe in. When the PAP tells Singaporeans to fight for our causes, they mean that we have to fight in the face of the barriers and risks that they introduce and enforce, and confine ourselves to channels and avenues that they approve of, working within the boundaries that they have drawn. If we do all this long enough without getting on their bad side, they might just one day decide to oblige us or take one modest step in the direction of progress. But if we piss them off or embarrass them too much, then we can very quickly be cast as troublemakers and rabble-rousers who need to be made an example of to remind everyone else who’s really in charge.
It’s gaslighting to talk as if they encourage or welcome activism, when the PAP has worked for years to suppress activism and dissent. But then again, Singapore is often a very gaslighty place.
The courts are in charge of a new proposed law that might see some people convicted of serious crimes left behind bars indefinitely, K Shanmugam says. The Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (Sepp) is a new law that’s been proposed in Parliament. It would give the court the option of imposing a regular sentence or a Sepp sentence that would have the individual serve a sentence, then be assessed by a detention review board and reviewed by the Minister for Home Affairs (i.e. Shanmugam).
Perhaps legal experts might have a different opinion, or have an answer to this question: if it’s really the courts who have the say, then why don’t the results of the assessment go back to the court for a sentence to be reviewed, rather than just to the minister?
On the radar
👑 The Thai constitutional court has ruled that Move Forward’s promise to reform the lese majeste law violates Section 49 of the Thai Constitution, which forbids any attempt to “overthrow” the constitutional monarchy. The political party is now supposed to stopped talking about wanting to make changes to a law that has been used to clamp down on any perceived slight against the royal family. CNA’s Saksith Saiyasombut has this explainer:
“Wednesday’s verdict has seemingly killed off any chance of amending lese majeste for the foreseeable future. And free speech in Thailand could be affected as red lines could be further muddled by the Constitutional Court’s latest ruling.
Together with the slew of convictions and Move Forward’s confinement to the opposition bench—not to mention the apparent ever-constant threat of dissolution—huge challenges stand in the way of those calling for reform.”
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