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Singapore judge’s decision ‘major setback’ says Human Rights Watch

Singapore judge’s decision ‘major setback’ says Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has vigorously condemned last month’s decision by Justice Quentin Loh in Singapore’s High Court to uphold a law criminalizing consensual gay sex.

‘I was stunned because I thought that this was a very clear breach of equality before the law,’ said deputy director Asia of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, speaking exclusively to Gay Star News.

Robertson added that Yale University, which is opening a campus in Singapore this year, should speak-out about the decision, as should global corporations such as Google and Barclays which have headquarters in the city-state.

On 10 April Loh ruled against gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee’s constitutional challenge to a law that affectively criminalizes their relationship.

In his judgement Loh referred the decision back to parliament saying the issue does not justify ‘heavy-handed judicial intervention ahead of democratic change’.

‘He was dodging the issue,’ said Robertson. ‘He decided that this was a political matter and the judiciary was going to throw this back to the politicians and make them decide.

‘My view is that the judge should have focused his attention on a very simple and straight-forward question. Is it discriminatory or not? The answer is clearly yes.’

Six years ago Singapore’s parliament debated removing Section 377A, the British-colonial-era law that criminalizes consenting sex between men, leading Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to conclude they will keep the law but not enforce it.

Loh decided to refer back to this 2007 parliamentary decision. He added that the law criminalizes male homosexual sex because it ‘is not acceptable in our society’.

Since becoming a High Court Judge in 2010, Loh has made a series of conservative rulings. In November 2010 he found British author Alan Shadrake guilty of contempt of court, sending him to six weeks in jail, for publishing a book criticizing Singapore’s judiciary. And in October 2012 Loh dismissed the right to appeal of a group who were arrested for public assembly without a permit.

Robertson said that Loh’s decision goes against international human rights standards and that Yale University’s law faculty should take apart the legal basis of his argument.

The human rights watchdog added that global corporations who support the equal rights of their LGBT employees should use their influence in Singapore to condemn the law.

‘This is all clearly a missed opportunity for Singapore to demonstrate that it aspires to be a modern and progressive country suitable for the corporations of the 21st century,’ said Robertson.

Lim and Chee’s legal team are mounting an appeal to Loh’s decision. A campaign to raise funds for the appeal exceeded the target of $50,000 (US dollars, €38,000) in 24 hours.

‘We are blown away by the outpouring of support,’ said Andrew Wong, one of the activists behind the fundraising campaign.

Today, Singapore’s LGBT visibility showcase, Pink Dot, announced the three ‘ambassadors’ for this year’s event on 29 June. They are TV presenter Michelle Chia, sports commentator Mark Richmond and theatre company director Ivan Heng.