Gay rights champion makes legal challenge against Section 377A

Activist argues that criminalisation of sex between men inconsistent with Constitution

An LGBT rights advocate has filed a case against the Attorney-General, stating that Section 377A of the Penal Code - which criminalises sex between men - is "inconsistent" with portions of Singapore's Constitution, and "is therefore void".

Mr Choong Chee Hong, better known as Bryan Choong, filed it at the Supreme Court in November last year.

Mr Choong, 41, is the former executive director of Oogachaga, a non-profit organisation working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

According to court documents, Mr Choong stated that Section 377A is inconsistent with Article 9 of the Constitution, which states: "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law."

The two other portions deemed "inconsistent" are: Article 12, which states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to its equal protection; and Article 14, which states that every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Article 14 also states that all citizens of Singapore "have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms" and have the "right to form associations".

Mr Choong, who declined to be interviewed, is represented by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal from Cavenagh Law, as well as a team from Peter Low and Choo law firm.

 
 
 

They are lawyers Remy Choo Zheng Xi, Priscilla Chia Wen Qi and Wong Thai Yong.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said it has received the papers and is studying them.

The AGC spokesman added: "We are unable to comment further as the matter is now before the courts."

On Sept 10 last year, a disc jockey also filed a court challenge against Section 377A, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Mr Johnson Ong Ming, then 43, who goes by the stage name DJ Big Kid, filed his challenge four days after India's Supreme Court struck down a similar law.

That decision sparked a renewed debate on Section 377A in Singapore, with camps on both sides starting petitions either to keep the law or repeal it.

In the wake of the Indian decision, Professor Tommy Koh, the Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also suggested that a new attempt be made to challenge Section 377A in the courts.

A legal challenge to strike down Section 377A failed in 2014, when the highest court in Singapore rejected that the provision was unconstitutional.

Gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee as well as Mr Tan Eng Hong had then argued that the provision was discriminatory.

Mr Choong's and Mr Ong's cases are still pending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Gay rights champion makes legal challenge against Section 377A'. Print Edition | Subscribe