Pink Dot rally to have barricades, security officers, as well as checks of bags and ID

Hong Lim Park was awash in pink in the evening of Jun 4, 2016 as thousands turned up for the annual event promoting the “Freedom to Love”.
Hong Lim Park was awash in pink in the evening of Jun 4, 2016 as thousands turned up for the annual event promoting the “Freedom to Love”.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - For the first time, a Speakers' Corner event will see barricades erected around Hong Lim Park with entry points manned by security officers. These security officers will also be checking the bags and identity cards of attendees.

These measures will be in place on July 1 at the ninth edition of annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rally Pink Dot.

They are put in place to deal with two issues: to ensure that foreigners do not attend the event, as well as security concerns in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

Pink Dot organisers said that they were asked by police to suggest what measures they are taking to ensure that only Singaporeans and permanent residents attend the event.

The police had reminded them of an amendment to the Public Order Act in October last year: with effect from November last year, organisers of Speakers' Corner events "must ensure that only citizens of Singapore or permanent residents of Singapore participate in the assembly or procession". Those who fail to comply can face a fine of up to $10,000, be jailed for a maximum of six months, or both.

Pink Dot spokesman Paerin Choa told The Straits Times that after three rounds of discussions, "the only suggestion that the police has agreed to is barricading the park".

"This was a decision taken out of our hands and is something we do not readily agree with," he added, saying that the organisers had offered other suggestions such as random bag checks.

In response to ST's queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: "The organisers are responsible for ensuring that suitable and appropriate measures have been put in place to ensure these rules are complied with.

"The Speakers' Corner is a designated outdoor area for Singaporeans and permanent residents to participate in assemblies and processions, and for Singaporeans to express their views on issues that matter to them."

But the bag checks were in response to security concerns given recent acts of terrorism around the globe, added the MHA.

Pink Dot were advised by police to check the bags of attendees for the safety of participants after a bomb went off last Monday at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 and injuring 59.

Closer to home, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a bus terminal in Jakarta last Wednesday, killing three policemen.

Pink Dot organisers said they have not finalised details, but are looking to have seven entry points manned by security personnel who will perform the identity and bag checks.

Since 2014 when the Wear White movement opposing Pink Dot started, rally organisers have been hiring security staff to make sure there are no hiccups. They hired 25 last year and may double the figure this year.

"It's not confirmed yet how many there will be. We're speaking with the security company to ensure that we get an adequate amount of security but there will definitely be security at every entry point and within the park itself," said Mr Choa.

These additional measures are expected to drive up costs, said Mr Choa. "We're thankful that we've 116 sponsors."

Last October, the authorities had made clear that events at the Speakers' Corner cannot have foreign sponsorship - an announcement that worried Pink Dot organisers since previous rallies relied on foreign dollars. In response, Pink Dot called for local companies to step up and rally behind them.

Now, organisers are hoping that Singaporeans and permanent residents will also throw their weight behind the event.

Mr Choa said: "It's all the more important that Singaporeans and permanent residents take a stand for the Singapore that they want, and to effect the change that they want to happen. This shouldn't hinder people from coming to Pink Dot this year. It may seem daunting, but just like no of companies who stepped forward, we're hoping the same thing will happen with individuals."

The ambassadors for Pink Dot this year are singer Nathan Hartono, para-swimmer Theresa Goh and actor Ebi Shankara.