|Pro-democracy protesters wearing protective gear stand near a barricade in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong, on October 2014/AFP|
Gay rights groups on Thursday slammed a decision by Singapore’s top court to uphold a colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men and urged parliament to strike down the legislation.
Local activists said they were "greatly shocked and disappointed'' by the decision of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday which said that the law is constitutional and that it was up to parliament to repeal it.
“While we appreciate the court's position that it cannot assist in providing a judicial remedy to what it views as a legislative issue, we cannot accept its narrow interpretation of the constitution in this regard,'' said a statement signed by 14 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights groups in the city-state.
Among the signatories was Pink Dot Sg, which organizes an annual pro-gay rights rally that drew over 20,000 people this year.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal reiterated rulings by lower courts that it was up to parliament to repeal the provision in the penal code, known as Section 377A.
It said that under the constitution, matters of social policy ``were outside the remit of the court'' and must be addressed by the elected legislature, responding to challenges to the law by two separate gay appellants.
The gay-rights groups said Section 377A "gives carte blanche for discrimination and reinforces prejudice, leading to censorship in the media and the aggravation of negative stereotypes'' of the LGBT community.
“In view of the court's stance, we call on parliament to demonstrate true leadership and do the right thing by nullifying this crippling piece of legislation,'' they said.
The law, first introduced by British colonial administrators in 1938, is not actively enforced by authorities. It carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for male homosexual acts.
The government has said however that the provision should stay on the books because most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.
A scientific survey conducted by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in 2010 and published last year found Singaporeans' views towards homosexuality gradually becoming more positive compared to attitudes in 2005.
The LGBT rights movement in the wealthy city-state has grown steadily in recent years, helped by changing social norms among the younger generation and a large influx of tourists and expatriates.
In a separate statement, international rights group Human Rights Watch urged the Singapore government to follow in the footsteps of other Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand in abolishing archaic laws inherited from colonial rule.
“Singapore should recognize that its arbitrary restrictions on human sexuality affect not only Singaporeans, but everyone wanting to visit, work, or study in Singapore,’' said Boris Dittrich, the group's LGBT rights advocacy director. --AFP/HKong