Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
Commonwealth member state
Penal Code 2008, Section 377A Outrages on Decency

Section 377A criminalises acts of “gross indecency” between men, or the procurement or attempted procurement thereof, with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.1

Enforcement

2017

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Singapore indicated that the authorities did not enforce the section during the year.

2012

During a Parliamentary debate on the repeal of section 377A, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated that authorities would not actively enforce the statute. Despite this statement, the Court of Appeal in Tan Eng Hong v Attorney General (at Para 180) refused to accept that this meant there would be no enforcement of this law: “It may simply mean that the police will not purposely seek out adult males who carry out such activities with a view to charging them, but if they happen to come across such activities being committed or if they receive complaints of such activities, they will then arrest and charge the relevant persons under S377A.”

2010

Prosecutions under section 377A are rare and there is only one such reported case publicly available. In 2010 Tan Eng Hong and Chin Chee Shyong were charged under section 377A. Those charges were later dropped and brought under another section which both men pleaded guilty to. The Court, however, granted leave to challenge the constitutionality of the original prosecution.

Statements by Public Figures

2017

In December, the leaders of the National Council of Churches of Singapore reaffirmed their position that the Church “does not condone homosexual practice and considers the homosexual lifestyle as sinful and unacceptable,” but added “homosexuals should be regarded and treated no less as persons of worth and dignity”.

2016

In a press statement in June, the Ministry of Home Affairs called on foreign entities not to interfere in domestic issues saying: “These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example.” The statement added that foreigners were not allowed to organise or participate in the Pink Dot events and demonstrations, and foreign companies should remove funding.

2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, during an interview with several journalists from ASEAN in June, said: “There is space for the gay community but they should not push the agenda too hard because if they push the agenda too hard, there will be a very strong pushback… We do not harass them or discriminate against them.”

There is space for the gay community but they should not push the agenda too hard because if they push the agenda too hard, there will be a very strong pushback.

Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore Prime Minister

2014

After a newspaper reported that Goldman Sachs would be hosting a recruitment and networking dinner for LGBT students at its office in Singapore, then Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing reportedly wrote a Facebook post in May stating that foreign companies “should not venture into public advocacy for causes that sow discord amongst Singaporeans.”

A Pastor in Singapore started an anti-gay petition in February having referred to gay rights as the “onslaught of the evil one[s]”. The petition came following the release of an online brochure by the Singapore Health Promotion Board which stated that: “homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental illnesses… [and] are not too different from a heterosexual relationship”.

In January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reportedly told students at the Nanyang Technological University that it was not the government’s job to make people believe in gay rights, adding that religious values must be respected. The statement came after he questioned the need to remove Singapore’s anti-gay laws in January 2013: “Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it.”

2013

In August, Vincent Wijeysingha, Singapore’s first openly gay politician and former leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, resigned from his position in order to concentrate on LGBT issues: “In a political party, you are involved with a whole spectrum of policy issues… you have to balance the priorities and insights of people from a whole range of demographics, so that may suggest that I can’t focus my work on civil liberties and LGBT issues, which I think there is a need for.”

2011

At Singapore’s first UPR, the country’s UN delegate reportedly stated: “What is being criminalised is not gay Singaporeans but homosexual acts between men. An extensive public consultation was held and the matter was considered at the highest political levels. It was not taken lightly and in the end it was decided to leave things be. The Singaporean police have not been proactively enforcing the provision and will continue to take this stance.”

Persecution and Discrimination

2018

In December, the Singapore High Court reversed a ruling of a district judge in 2017, allowing a gay man to adopt his surrogate son who he brought back to Singapore with him from the USA. In response, the government stated that it was considering tightening adoption laws.

2017

In July, the Pink Dot festival, an annual event to show support for the LGBT community, was held. The Singaporean Government barred international companies, which have historically supported the event, from being sponsors. Previously in May it was announced that only Singaporean citizens and permanent residents would be able to attend that year’s event due to legal changes.

In June, a promotional advertisement for the Pink Dot festival, which included the phrase “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, was removed on the request of the Advertising Standards Agency on the grounds it “may affect public sensibilities”.

2015

In May, Singapore’s censorship board, the Media Development Authority, reportedly issued a document to all TV and radio stations banning the broadcast of a song based on the true story of a lesbian couple, which it said promoted gay marriage and therefore contravened Singaporean law.

In March, Singapore’s High Court fined a prominent dissident blogger and gay rights activist S$8,000 for making statements that: “crossed the legal boundary and constitute scandalising contempt” in an article where he criticised the Court of Appeal for the legal proceedings that resulted in the dismissal of lawsuits seeking to overturn Section 377A of the Penal Code. In October 2013, he had claimed that the hearing dates on the constitutional challenge had been rigged so that the Chief Justice could avoid a conflict of interest.

2014

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Singapore suggested that the government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships.

In July, Singapore’s Media Development Authority banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank depiction of gay marriage.

In the same month, the Singapore Government ordered the National Library Board to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or ‘unconventional’ families. One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

2013

In May, Singapore’s Media Development Authority announced plans for a new rule which would require websites to apply for a licence should they attract 50,000 or more unique visitors from Singapore within a two month period. Those applying for a licence must conform to existing regulations regarding the promotion of homosexuality. Any article not in conformity with those regulations will be removed within 24 hours, and the publisher issued a large fine.

Legislative News

2016

During its second UPR cycle, Singapore noted recommendations to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code, reiterating that while section 377A is retained, it is not proactively enforced: “All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to lead their lives and pursue their activities in their private space without fear of violence or personal insecurity. Members of the LGBT community are also not discriminated against in schools or the workplace. The Government does not discriminate against persons seeking a job in the civil service on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

2014

In November, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted a resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. This is introduced biennially and urges states to protect the right to life of all people. Significantly, this resolution calls upon states to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds, including killings that target people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Singapore voted in favour of the resolution.

In October, Mr Tan Eng Hong mounted a challenge to the constitutionality of section 377A of the Penal Code after he was arrested and charged under that provision in 2010. Mr Lim and Mr Chee, a gay couple, had never been charged but brought a separate challenge in 2012 alleging that the mere existence of the gross indecency law violates their fundamental rights. Both cases were dismissed by the High Court in early 2013, and appeals were lodged with the Court of Appeal, the final appellate court in Singapore. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals on 29 October 2014.

Footnotes
1. Penal Code 2008, Section 377A Outrages on Decency

“Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.” Full text.

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