Activists protest law don's speech as pro-family groups back petition in her support

Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN
Civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann’s speech at a human rights seminar. -- PHOTO: KIRSTEN HAN

SINGAPORE - Several civil society activists staged a colourful silent protest on Thursday during a speech by law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann at a human rights seminar.

Meanwhile, conservative pro-family groups online supported a petition defending the law don's invitation to the event, which was organised by the European Union delegation to Singapore.

Dr Thio had been asked to share her views on the role of the judiciary in protecting and promoting human rights, but her previous public speeches against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have attracted controversy.

During her speech in the morning, four activists stood in front of the stage with their mouths taped shut with a rainbow-coloured sticker. The rainbow flag is used as a symbol by the LGBT community.

The activists - who included Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of migrant workers group Home - also held placards with slogans that championed LGBT rights.

A rainbow-coloured flag was also unfurled and held by other activists in view of Dr Thio, said blogger Kirsten Han, who was present at the event.

Dr Thio's speech was however not interrupted by the protesters, who remained silent, news agency AFP reported.

Ms Han said in a Facebook post that the moderator of the session took note of the protest and "thanked the advocates for keeping explicitly silent and respecting Dr Thio's freedom of speech".

On Wednesday, 78 civil society members said in a statement that Dr Thio's past public speeches against the LGBT community meant that she was an unsuitable speaker at the Human Rights Day event, which took place at the Conrad Centennial Singapore hotel.

In response, two individuals began a petition on website Change.org supporting the EU delegation's invitation to Dr Thio and expressing their disappointment in the activists' statement, which they described as "censorship".

The petition was shared in pro-family Facebook groups Singaporeans United For Family and We Are Against Pinkdot In Singapore, and had 625 signatures as of 8pm on Thursday.

Dr Thio did not immediately reply when The Straits Times contacted her via phone and e-mail.

A spokesman for the EU delegation in Singapore told AFP that Dr Thio had been invited to share her views on the role of the judiciary in the protection and promotion of human rights, which was "her area of expertise".

The spokesman also said that despite opposition to Dr Thio's views by "several participants" at the event, "many also appreciated the opportunity to have an exchange of views on questions linked to the judiciary and human rights, including but not limited to LGBTI questions", reported AFP.

"The EU delegation has made it clear to participants that it will continue its established dialogue with civil society, including with members of the LGBTI community," she added.

charyong@sph.com.sg