SINGAPORE Organisers of Singapore's Pink Dot gay pride rally have warned foreigners and those who are not permanent residents of the city-state to steer clear of this year's event, following rule changes aimed at keeping foreigners out of domestic politics.
Foreigners have never been legally allowed to join rallies in the conservative city-state, but many have got around the restriction by "observing" such events.
Changes to the law announced in October remove the distinction between "participants" and "observers", the organisers of the July 1 event said, leaving them "no choice" but to bar foreigners.
"We were reminded by the Singapore police force that with these changes, the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly," Pink Dot said on social network Facebook on Sunday.
"Flouting of these laws will subject the organisers, as well as foreigners, to arrest and prosecution by the authorities – something we are sure everyone would want to avoid."
The ministry has beefed up laws on public assembly in the past year, saying that prevention of interference in domestic politics by foreign entities has always been Singapore's position since public speaking rules were introduced in 2000.
In October, the ministry posted new public speaking rules, clarifying that foreign companies and individuals needed a permit to sponsor or take part in certain events.
It did not specify any event at the time, but authorities warned last year they would take steps to prevent foreign firms from funding or supporting the annual gay pride event.
"This approach is consistent with the government's long-held position that foreigners and foreign entities should not engage in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues," the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement to Reuters.
The government does not seek to "proscribe" such events, it said, adding: "Local companies can fund and indeed more local companies have come forward to fund and support the event this year."
The rally, formerly sponsored by multinational tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, has been held since 2009 under Singapore's stringent public assembly laws at Speaker's Corner in a downtown square, where citizens can speak their minds without a permit.
"The Singapore government’s knee-jerk approach to limit human rights at the first sign of controversy is really on display here," Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
"Singapore is doing all it can to truncate international support for the rapidly growing movement of Singaporeans who support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
Sex between men is illegal in Singapore and punishable with up to two years in prison, though the law is rarely enforced. The law dates back to the island's colonial period and makes no mention of lesbians.
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Gareth Jones)