Foreign entities need permits at Speakers' Corner

Pink Dot, which held a rally at the Speakers' Corner in June with at least 13 MNC sponsors, said it is "disappointed" by the new rules and is hoping to get more local support for its rally next year.
Pink Dot, which held a rally at the Speakers' Corner in June with at least 13 MNC sponsors, said it is "disappointed" by the new rules and is hoping to get more local support for its rally next year.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

MHA reiterates existing rules and clearly sets out what foreign entities are; S'pore entities will not need permits

The authorities have made it clear that foreign entities will have to apply for a permit to take part in Speakers' Corner events, such as the Pink Dot rally, starting Nov 1.

And the likelihood of it being approved appears dim, if the issue is deemed controversial.

Said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam last night: "In general, if it relates to controversial social or political issues, which really are a matter for Singaporeans, then it is unlikely the foreigners will get a permit."

The Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday reiterated existing rules that require foreign companies and non-governmental organisations to get a permit to sponsor, promote or get its employees to participate in events at the Speakers' Corner.

What is new is that it has now categorically set out what constitute foreign entities. They include locally incorporated or registered arms of multinational companies (MNCs) unless they are also controlled by a majority of Singaporeans. The rule is also extended to foreign entities that want to speak via tele- conferencing or pre-recorded messages at the Speakers' Corner.

  • HOW SPEAKERS' CORNER RULES HAVE CHANGED

  • 2000

    The Speakers' Corner is created at Hong Lim Park for Singaporeans to air their views.

    Only speeches are allowed. The speaker also must be a Singaporean, register before speaking and not cause racial or religious enmity.

    2004

    Rules are relaxed to allow performances and exhibitions - not just speeches.

    2008

    Outdoor demonstrations - banned in Singapore since the racial riots of the 1960s - are allowed at the Speakers' Corner. Management of the space is also passed from the police to the National Parks Board, a statutory board under the National Development Ministry.

    2011

    Those who want to hold an event at the Speakers' Corner during election periods must apply for a permit, even if the event is not related to the polls.

    2016

    The Ministry of Home Affairs reiterates that foreign entities have to apply for a permit if they want to sponsor, promote or get their employees and members to participate in Speakers' Corner events. Conversely, Singapore entities will now be exempted from the requirement.

But rules for local entities have been liberalised. Singapore companies and NGOs no longer need permits to hold Speakers' Corner events, or indoor assemblies. Now, only Singaporeans have this privilege.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "Speakers' Corner is for Singaporeans to articulate views, particularly when it comes to sociopolitical issues... So we needed to make that clear."

He added: "We are neutral in terms of what people can discuss and cannot, or which side people take, or which side of the argument people are supporting or against. What we are saying and where we are drawing the line is Singaporeans versus non-Singaporeans."

He said that the Government has noticed an increase in foreign participation in controversial issues.

As for which are the sociopolitical issues where foreign participation will not be permitted, he said it will be those where "Singaporeans are sharply divided in their opinions".

So, for instance, foreigners wanting to participate in the Purple Parade, which champions the cause of the disabled, will be more likely to get the green light, he said. The Pink Dot, which supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, less so.

The difference between the two: their potential to rile up opinions.

On the matter of unwed mothers, Mr Shanmugam said: "I think we really have to look at it issue by issue."

In June, the Government said it is reviewing regulations for the Speakers' Corner after the Pink Dot rally, which had at least 13 MNC sponsors.

Pink Dot said it is "disappointed" by the new rules. It hopes to "call on more Singaporeans and local companies, who share in our desire and vision for a more diverse and inclusive Singapore, to step forward to support us in Pink Dot 2017".

Google, which in 2011 was the first MNC to throw its support behind Pink Dot, said it intends to apply for a permit.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the restrictions are not targeting LGBT issues. "Pink Dot is probably impacted the most. But the rules seek to avoid Singapore being an iconic and desired venue for proxy cultural wars even as we deal with similar issues."

Mr Damien Chng, director of anti-death penalty group We Believe In Second Chances, said Singaporeans should be allowed to hear foreign views at Speakers' Corner events since these can be accessed online.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Foreign entities need permits at Speakers' Corner'. Print Edition | Subscribe