ST: Lecture permit revoked after cops get info on gay agenda (Sept 19)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lecture permit revoked after cops get info on gay agenda
by Zakir Hussain
The Straits Times, Sep 19, 2007

A permit for a lecture by a Canadian law academic last month was cancelled after the police learnt it was part of gay activists' efforts to promote their political agenda, Parliament was told yesterday.

Senior Minister of State (Home Affairs and Law) Ho Peng Kee said police also discovered from information online that Professor Douglas Sanders was an advocate for decriminalising homosexual sex.

Explaining the backdrop to the cancellation, he said police found out only after granting the permit that his talk was part of a two-week series of events 'which promoted the gay cause'.

'It became subsequently clear to police that the event was part of the efforts of gay activists to promote their political agenda which involved a foreigner,' Associate Professor Ho said.

'Our laws are an expression and reflection of the values of our society and any public discourse in Singapore on such matters should be reserved for Singaporeans.

'Foreigners will not be allowed to interfere in our domestic political scene, whether in support of the gay cause or against it.'

He was replying to questions from Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong on why the permit had been cancelled.

In July, the authorities approved a public entertainment licence for an event in which Prof Sanders of the University of British Columbia was to speak on 'Sexual orientation in international law: the case of Asia'.

But the permit was cancelled four days before the Aug 7 talk because, based on additional information received, police saw the event as 'contrary to the public interest'.

Police had learnt of Prof Sanders' background and that he was 'likely to talk about our Section 377A, which is the criminalising of homosexual sex'.

'He was an advocate for decriminalising of homosexual sex, having spoken, for example, at the United Nations,' Prof Ho said.

The section - which will remain on the books despite proposed changes to the Penal Code tabled on Monday - was hotly debated here after draft changes were floated last year.

Prof Ho said the decision on Prof Sanders 'was not taken lightly; neither was it a case where police just approved without careful consideration'.

The organisers had, in fact, proceeded with the event - but without Prof Sanders - as no permit is needed for an indoor talk where no foreigners are speaking.

There has not been a similar licence cancellation for talks by foreign speakers in the past five years as police are usually able to decide on an application based on the information available to them, Prof Ho said.

In this case, they received additional information only shortly before revoking the permit, and had acted 'expeditiously'.

Prof Sanders' curriculum vitae accompanying the application, for instance, made no reference to his UN involvement, or to articles he had written on issues similar to Section 377A here.

Asked by Mr Michael Palmer (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) why the Government could engage foreigners to comment and advise on policy-making but civil society groups could not, Prof Ho said context was important.

There was an ongoing debate here on homosexuality - a topic which Prof Ho noted was 'divisive'.

And it was quite different to have someone like Prof Sanders, 'a known advocate for the human rights of gays and lesbians, to take a position'.

'We can hear his views on the air or read it online but it's quite different to invite him here to speak to a Singapore audience at this time.'