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Overview of Singapore's legal framework for freedom of LGBT speech, expression and assembly[]

Article 14(1) of the highest law in the land - the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore guarantees all citizens, including the LGBT community, the freedom of speech, expression and assembly. It states:

14.—(1)

(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and

(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.

If Article 4(1) existed unfettered by any other clauses, LGBT Singaporeans would have the right to express their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in public via all available media, and to assemble, march or protest in groups for any cause related to their culture. However, these rights are severely curtailed by Article 14(2) of the Constitution which states:

(2) Parliament may by law impose —

(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1)(a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;

(b) on the right conferred by clause (1)(b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and

(c) on the right conferred by clause (1)(c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.

Licencing[]

If the performance is an arts entertainment event, such as a musical, dance, drama, or comedy show, you may need to apply for a Licence for The Provision of Arts Entertainment from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)1. However, some arts entertainment events are exempted from licensing if they meet certain criteria, such as being held in a designated venue or having a restricted audience.

If the performance is held outdoors and is not an arts entertainment event, you may need to notify any police officer on duty at any Neighbourhood Police Post, Neighbourhood Police Centre or Police Land Division, of the performance at least seven days before the event, using the Public Entertainment Licence - Notification to Police of Exempted Public Entertainments or Arts Entertainment1. You will need your SingPass and password to do so.

If the performance is a public assembly, procession or public talk that is held in a public place with the intention to demonstrate support for or opposition to any views or actions, publicise a cause or campaign, or mark or commemorate any event, you will need to apply for a Police Permit for Assembly or Procession or a Police Permit for Public Talk from the Singapore Police Force (SPF). You can do so online using your SingPass and password. The normal processing time is about 14 working days from the receipt of the application and the necessary supporting documents. However, some public assemblies and processions are exempted from requiring a police permit if they meet certain conditions, such as being held at Speakers’ Corner or involving only one person. You can refer to the Public Order (Exempt Assemblies and Processions) Order 20092 for the full list of exemption requirements.

History[]

The history of public performance regulations in Singapore is quite complex and varied, depending on the type and nature of the performance, as well as the political and social context of the time. Here are some of the major changes that have occurred over the years:

Before Singapore’s independence in 1965, public performances were regulated by the colonial authorities under the Public Entertainments Ordinance 19581, which required a licence from the Commissioner of Police for any public entertainment, such as a concert, play, dance, exhibition, or lecture. The ordinance also gave the police wide powers to impose conditions, cancel, or revoke licences, as well as to enter and inspect any premises where public entertainment was held.

After independence, the Public Entertainments Ordinance 1958 was replaced by the Public Entertainments Act 19662, which retained most of the provisions of the ordinance, but also introduced some new categories of public entertainment, such as cinematograph exhibitions, musical boxes, and juke boxes. The act also empowered the Minister for Home Affairs to make rules for regulating public entertainment, such as prescribing fees, forms, and procedures for applying for licences.

In 1989, the Public Entertainments Act 1966 was amended to create a new category of arts entertainment, which included any performance of a dramatic or musical nature, or any exhibition or presentation of an artistic work. Arts entertainment was subject to a separate licensing regime from other types of public entertainment, and was administered by the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA), which later became the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA)3. The amendment also exempted certain arts entertainment events from licensing if they met certain criteria, such as being held in a designated venue or having a restricted audience.

In 2000, the Public Entertainments Act 1966 was further amended to allow for public assemblies and processions without a police permit at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, subject to certain conditions and restrictions. Speakers’ Corner was established as a designated venue for Singaporeans to express their views on any issue freely4. The amendment also exempted certain public assemblies and processions from requiring a police permit if they met certain conditions, such as being held at Speakers’ Corner or involving only one person.

In 2009, the Public Entertainments Act 1966 was repealed and replaced by two new acts: the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) and the Public Order Act (POA). PEMA consolidated and streamlined the licensing regimes for public entertainment and arts entertainment under one act, and transferred the administration of arts entertainment from MICA to the Media Development Authority (MDA), which later became the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). PEMA also introduced a new classification system for arts entertainment based on age ratings and content advisories. POA established a new framework for regulating public assemblies and processions under one act, and introduced new offences and penalties for unlawful assemblies and processions.

See also[]

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Acknowledgements[]

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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