(Washington, DC) – United States President Barack Obama should press visiting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to address the Singapore government’s severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. President Obama will meet with Prime Minister Lee in Washington, DC, on August 2, 2016.
“President Obama should make it clear to Prime Minister Lee that Singapore’s increasing repression of its own people has not gone unnoticed,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “He should call on Singapore to revise laws curtailing free speech and peaceful assembly, and end discrimination against the country’s LGBT community.”
In a letter to President Obama on July 8, Human Rights Watch highlighted key human rights issues including restrictions on fundamental rights, lack of protection for LGBT individuals, and censorship of media and the arts.
Consensual relations between two male persons remains a criminal offense in Singapore, and the government routinely censors positive portrayals of LGBT lives, or even mention of LGBT issues. A recent episode of the US program The Ellen DeGeneres Show on which President Obama praised host Ellen DeGeneres for her activism for LGBT people was censored when it was shown in Singapore. LGBT organizations are denied the right to register as associations, and LGBT individuals have no legal protection against discrimination on grounds of sexuality.
In May 2016, the police interrogated long-time activist Teo Soh Lung and blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, alleging that they violated election laws restricting political campaigning during a mandatory “cooling-off period” before a recent by-election. The police based their actions on separate posts the two activists had made on their personal Facebook pages. The heavy-handed actions by the police, who searched the homes of both Teo and Ngerng, seizing phones and computers, appeared to be an effort to intimidate the two outspoken activists.
Public assemblies are strictly regulated in Singapore, with permits required for gatherings outside of the designated Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park. Permits for anything remotely political are routinely denied, and even within Hong Lim Park protesters face restrictions on what they can do or say.
“Singapore likes to position itself as a modern center for trade and the arts,” Robertson said. “But President Obama needs to say frankly that the government’s harsh laws and harassment risk undermining the country’s role as a hub for international business.”