Pink Dot 2017 and its changes | Why Like Dat?
Jun 15, 2017

Photo: Mothership

The end of freedom of expression in Singapore?


Organizers of the annual Pink Dot have announced that this year’s event will only be open to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents. Foreigners will not be permitted to attend the event held at the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park on July 1.

According to TODAY, flouting of this rule would result in foreigners be arrested and fined a maximum of $3,000 for their first offence, and $5,000 for a subsequent offence. Organizers could also face a fine of $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months, or both.

To further enforce the rules and ensure they are strictly adhered to, the organizers have said that they had no other option but to set up barricades around the Speakers’ Corner. Event attendees will also have to present their identity cards or passports before they can enter the event.

The new rules come after amendments to the Public Order Act were enacted on Nov 1, stating that event organizers must ensure that "only citizens of Singapore or permanent residents of Singapore participate in the assembly or procession".

Organizers have also said that "this was a decision that was taken out of our hands", and that they were also upset by it.

Unlike last year’s event where foreigners were allowed to attend the event on the terms that they simply observed, authorities have conveyed to organizers that this year’s event “no longer distinguishes between participants and observers”. Anyone who turns up will be considered to be part of an assembly.

The State’s stance on the move was that “foreign entities should not interfere in domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones, and that political, social or moral choices were for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves."

If you recall, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had used Mao Zedong’s “Hundred Flowers Campaign” in 1956 as an analogy and said this in his 2004 National Day Rally Speech:

“Once in a while, Think Centre says they want to go to the Speakers' Corner and they want to plant 100 flowers there, let the 100 flowers bloom.  Well, I think go ahead.  They want to water the flowers, go ahead.  They want to turn the flowers down, go ahead.  I mean, free expression as long as you don't get into race and religion and don't start a riot.  It's a signal – speak, speak your voice, be heard, take responsibility for your views and opinions.”

Mao’s campaign was built on his promise to encourage his people to the freedom of expression, but when they opened up, Mao clamped down on them instead.

While it is understandable the limits imposed on the freedom of expression in Singapore are efforts to retain peace and harmony, the recent changes to the Pink Dot event brings to question if the usage of the Speakers’ Corner, the only official free speech zone in Singapore, is facing a similar end – the curbing of free expression despite promises of the contrary.


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