17 April 2020, Bangkok, Thailand – APCOM deplores the dismissal by the Singapore High Court of the constitutional challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “gross indecency” between men.
The challenge to the article inherited from British colonial times was mounted by Johnson Ong Ming, a disc jockey and producer; Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former Executive Director of LGBT organisation Oogachaga; and Roy Tan Seng Kee, a retired medical doctor.
While the government promised that the law will not be enforced when a previous case was brought to the Court of Appeals in 2014 and was declined, the existence of the law has been a shadow constraining many LGBTI-related public activities, something which is contrary to the democratic principles that modern Singapore is supposed to espouse. As the Supreme Court of India, in its consideration of a similar law in 2018, pointed out, the fact that the law makes a person a criminal reinforces prejudice and shames many people into silence and self-hatred.
APCOM’s LGBTI Human Rights Ambassador, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby, has this to say about the decision:
“At a time when the world is grappling with a fearful pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, upon which Singapore has shown wisdom and leadership, the failure of the court to do likewise is distressing. Indeed shocking. How can it be that such a modern, tech-savvy, well-informed society tolerates this antique, prejudiced and unjust relic of colonial rule? It is self-evident that individuals should not be criminalised, and shamed into silence about permanent features of their nature. The law is there for everyone, not just for a minority of heterosexual people who cannot bear to face the reality of science and diversity on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“All around the world, countries in recent times have got rid of similar provisions, either through legislative or judicial process. Most recently, courts and governments in India, Fiji and Palau have done so by wise and enlightened decisions.“
APCOM, which works for the health and other human rights of people throughout the Asia Pacific region, calls for the correction of this law by the process of appeal or reforming legislation. Friends of equality and justice in Singapore should not rest until Section 377A is removed from the statute book. Friends of Singapore from abroad should not just accept this persisting insult. If the lawyers and judges of Singapore (and the legislature) familiarise themselves with the murders and violence suffered by LGBT people throughout their region, they would be ashamed of the shocking example that this recent decision of the High Court of Singapore gives to brutal regimes. For which Singapore should instead be a shining light.