How entrapment ended
I have verbally told parts of this history on and off over the last few
years, and at each telling, I have been surprised to notice that to most
listeners under the age of 30, sometimes even those under 40, it seemed to
them a completely fresh tale.
Yet, the events here are only 12 years old. How is it that so many gay men in Singapore are not aware of these watershed events? Does this speak of the political apathy of Singaporeans in general, when people are blind to the political significance of major events, and see no point in retaining memory of them?
And more... 12 years after these events which led to the de facto ending of police entrapment of gay men cruising for sex, a large number of them still think that entrapment is an on-going policy.
So maybe it's time to document the tale.
There are four parts of this history, all
within the period September 1993 to April 1994.
In 1993, the primary cruising ground for homosexual encounters was the expanse of land reclaimed from the sea at the end of Fort Road, in the Tanjong Rhu district. After reclamation, the soil had been left to settle, and over time, a secondary forest took root. With the thick foliage as cover, and the beach almost inaccessible except via a long hike through the bush, and thus relatively secluded, the area became a perfect place for cruising and sex in the afternoons and evenings.
Naturally, the police knew of the place's reputation and they repeatedly sent constables into the area to pose as decoys and arrest men who approached them.
One victim was Tan Boon Hock, who on the afternoon of 19 September 1993, was arrested. He had approached and struck up a conversation with a constable decoy, but no explicit agreement was made. Nonetheless, given the circumstances and location, Tan assumed that the other party was a willing party. However, as soon as Tan unzipped the other guy's fly and touched his cock, the decoy identified himself and Tan was arrested.
Tan was charged under Section 354 of the Penal Code (outrage of modesty) . It's quite odd that he was not charged under Section 377A (gross indecency between males), perhaps because Section 354 permitted caning, and the government wanted caning as part of the penalty.
Tan pleaded guilty, probably hoping to be let off lightly, but was shocked to receive a sentence of 4 month's imprisonment and 3 strokes of the cane. He appealed against the sentence.
Meanwhile entrapment continued. In November 1993, a major raid took place, but this time, the press was used to expose and shame those caught.
Many gay men were doubly horrified by the police and media campaigns. Most drew the conclusion that they had to be extra careful and keep the lowest of low profiles.
A few others decided they have had enough. In particular, a performance artist, Josef Ng, decided to protest such totalitarian methods with a performance of his own.
In William Peterson's words,
featured 12 tiles on each of which was a block of tofu and a packet of red
paint. He recited random sentences from press reports of the entrapment
and arrests. Then he picked up a cane (three strips tied into one) and
performed a dance, at the end of which he whipped each of the 12
installations. Red paint and soft white tofu splattered violently.
Ng then recalled the
custom of cutting one’s hair as a sign of silent protest. He then went
to the back of the performance space and turned his back to the audience.
He took off his robe, leaving his trunks on. What he did with his back
turned was not immediately obvious. But when he returned to the center of
the space and scattered bits of pubic hair, it became clear.
On Monday 3 January
1994, the New Paper ran a cover story headlined "Pub(l)ic
protest", portraying the event as an extremely obscene performance.
The government reacted massively. Performance art was banned, a ban was only recently loosened, 10 years later. Josef Ng was charged in court for committing an obscene act in public, which he pleaded guilty to as a course of least resistance.
However, from inside sources, People Like Us learnt that George Yeo, then the Minister for Information and the Arts, was fuming mad at The New Paper for sensationalising the event and forcing the government's hand. The Goh Chok Tong administration was then trying to brand itself as a listening and compassionate government, and going on a witch-hunt, even one against gays, was contrary to the bigger political strategy.
One can imagine a calling together of editors to make sure they understood that this kind of publicity must never happen again.
A few months later, in April 1994, Tan Boon Hock's appeal was heard before the Chief Justice in the High Court.
Indeed, how could the constable have been 'outraged' when he was expecting to be touched in the first place?
The CJ allowed Tan's appeal and reduced the sentence to a fine of $2,000. The CJ noted that Tan had pleaded guilty and only appealed against the sentence, suggesting thereby that if Tan had contested the charge in the first instance, he would have been acquitted.
* * * * *
Even though this case concerned someone charged under Section 354 (outrage of modesty) and not Section 377A, the CJ's comments were fundamental enough to make all entrapment cases dubious.
There is a consensus among gay activists that since then, there have been no more entrapment cases in Singapore.
* * * * *
But a mere 6 years later, Lee Kuan Yew, when asked by a radio journalist about the use of the law against homosexuals, replied breezily that "we have not prosecuted anybody for homosexuality for the last 40, 50 years." 
So, it's not only gay men's memory that is selective. Lee's is too, but is it excusable that he should give such a reply on record to a worldwide audience?
© Yawning Bread
(2) Whoever commits an offence under