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Singapore DJ files court challenge against colonial-era gay sex ban

Johnson Ong Ming, also known as DJ Big Kid, challenges Singapore’s High Court just days after India scraps similar legislation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 5:17pm

A Singapore DJ has filed a court challenge against a colonial-era law that bans gay sex in the conservative city state, his lawyers said on Wednesday, following India’s scrapping of similar legislation.

Johnson Ong Ming, 43, also known as DJ Big Kid, filed his challenge with the High Court on Monday, his lawyers said, just four days after India’s landmark ruling.

Under Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, a man found to have committed an act of “gross indecency” with another man could be jailed for up to two years, although prosecutions are rare. The law does not apply to homosexual acts between women.

“We intend to argue that Section 377A is absurd and arbitrary,” lawyers Suang Wijaya and Eugene Thuraisingam said in a joint statement, adding that the law is “in violation of human dignity”.

Previous legal challenges to overturn the ban have failed, but a top Singapore diplomat called on the gay community to renew legal action against the law a day after India’s top court decriminalised gay sex.

We intend to argue that Section 377A is absurd and arbitrary
Suang Wijaya and Eugene Thuraisingam, lawyers

During its six decades since independence, Singapore has emerged as a modern, wealthy city state. Yet, lawmakers remain typically cautious over social reforms, partly due to sensitivities stemming from the ethnic and religious mix among Singapore’s 5.6 million inhabitants.

“An unusually large number of legal developments in various jurisdictions have occurred in a short span of time since (the last legal challenge in) October 2014,” said the lawyers, who are acting for Ong on a pro-bono basis, citing cases in the United States, Belize, Taiwan, Hong Kong and India. Last year, Taiwan’s constitutional court declared that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry in the first such ruling in Asia.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said last week that the issue was up to the Singapore society to decide but the majority of Singaporeans were opposed to any change to the law, adding that “a growing minority want it to be repealed”.

A public opinion survey released this week showed a slim majority of Singaporeans still support the law with 55 per cent of 750 Singaporeans polled in favour of it.

The poll by independent market research and consulting firm Ipsos showed 12 per cent opposed the law, while 33 per cent of respondents were neither for nor against it.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously said that Singapore society “is not that liberal on these matters”.