Recent moves by Singapore’s government to change its notoriously narrow public order law to further restrict free speech came as no surprise. But the specificity and persistence of the moves by the country’s home affairs ministry — first, in June, a warning to corporations that sponsor a gay-themed gathering, and from November 1 the imposition of a new bureaucratic hurdle for event sponsorship — is peculiar for a city-state keen on projecting a reputation for welcoming international business.
The new restriction, which requires companies that are not “Singapore entities” — meaning they are not incorporated in Singapore and do not have a majority of Singapore citizens on their board — appears to be aimed at corporate sponsorship of Pink Dot, an annual gathering that, since 2009, has brought together Singapore citizens and permanent residents to express support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Since its inception, the event’s organizers have been meticulous in registering the gathering and ensuring that all their announcements and regulations fall within Singapore’s public assembly laws.
Under Singapore’s Public Order Act 2009, the government requires a permit for any cause-related assembly in any public place or to which members of the general public are invited. Grounds for denial of the permit are broad and left largely to the discretion of police.
Demonstrations and rallies are restricted to the “Speakers’ Corner,” a designated “free speech area” in Hong Lim Park, require advance notice, can only be organized by Singaporean citizens, and are open only to citizens and permanent residents.
Singapore is home to a growing number of international companies — including multinational corporations such as Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Visa, and Microsoft — that recognize LGBT rights and have incorporated them into their corporate non-discrimination policies. Pink Dot was organized within the boundaries of Singaporean law, and garnered the support of local branches of those multinationals. Yet immediately after this year’s Pink Dot in June, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam issued a statement that “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones,” adding that LGBT issues are “one such example.”
The government’s response to Pink Dot effectively encourages corporations to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination. Some of the sponsors immediately responded by reaffirming their commitment to LGBT inclusion. Even after the new restrictions, which further entangles Pink Dot in a bureaucratic and legal tangle by requiring each MNC sponsor to apply for a sponsorship permit, some companies have already indicated they will continue to apply to sponsor the event.
The corporations that sponsor Pink Dot employ Singaporeans, follow Singapore’s laws, and contribute to Singapore’s economy. They have human rights responsibilities and should not be pressured to support discrimination against the LGBT community.
– Kyle Knight, researcher at Human Rights Watch
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