Yawning Bread. August 2006

Political apoplexy and police priorities




There were about 7 or 8 of them, male and female, in plainclothes, with tags. They arrived a little after 10.30 pm in a van, went into the club and walked around, looking left and right. Going up to the two 'Mardi Gras girls' who were dressed in bikinis, beads and feathers, they said something about being scantily dressed. Had their presence been coordinated with the management of the pub, Thumper, they asked? This then led to a conversation between the police team and the management, but what was said is unknown. The outcome though, is known. The girls' identity card numbers were taken down, told to change out of their gear and leave.

The Mardi Gras girls were there just to pose with patrons for their complimentary photographs, this being the launch party for IndigNation 2006, Singapore's lesbian and gay Pride season. They were not performing on stage. But whether or not they were performing, why is it actionable to wear a bikini in Singapore? What shred of legal basis is there for the police to interfere, and how justifiable is it when measured against basic civil rights?

Interestingly, the officers either ignored or didnít notice the Tequila girls who were just as skimpily dressed. Tequila girls are a fixture of many pubs, dressed in short coaties that barely cover their bosoms and tight, tight shorts. They too show a lot of midriff and thigh.

What's the difference between the "scantily dressed" take-down-your-particulars Mardi Gras girls and the no-big-deal Tequila girls?

The plainclothes team stuck around for about half an hour watching the scene in the club, speaking to the management at the door, checking the premise's licences, crowd numbers and so on, and then left. At no time was the music stopped.

However, at about 12.30 am, the team leader was spotted again just inside the club doorway, but this time without his identification tag. Why he had lost his tag remains a mystery.

Thumper had been expecting them. About a week earlier, the police had phoned them, though what was said in that phone call  I do not know, beyond a vague second-hand account that I received.. However, it was probably similar to what was said to Club95 and Tantric Bar, two other places that were venues for social events as part of IndigNation.

From feedback obtained from Club95 and Tantric Bar, the tone of the police's phone calls was an intimidating one. They asked, brusquely, whether these events were proxies for Fridae.com's banned Nation parties (not), who was responsible for organising them, and why they were being organised.

It is amazing that in Singapore, one has to justify to the government why one organises social events. It is even more amazing that the police officers could even imagine Club95 and Tantric Bar, each of which occupied a single narrow shophouse, accommodating anything like the thousands that attend a typical Nation party, an event that typically comes with multiple DJs, dance-floors and strobe lights.

But, as I shall explain below, fear banishes reason.

More to the point, why did the police behave in an intimidating way? My theory is that they want the venue owners to cancel the events. That way, there won't be any gay events, but at the same time, the police would be able to protest their innocence -- "But we didn't ban it!"

The owner of Tantric Bar was asked to attend a police interview in the days leading up to his event, Paradise 2006, scheduled for 5 August 2006. Beyond the aforementioned questions of who was behind the event, the intention of the police was evidently to read the riot act to the bar owner. Know and abide by the maximum crowd limit stipulated in your licence. Absolutely no kissing, though hugging can be allowed. "Make sure there is no immorality", they said, which of course is a bit strange considering that the government did license these bars to serve alcohol. Had they not heard that imbibing intoxicating liquids is immoral?

And here's the funny one: Nobody may take off his shirt. Isn't it so Singaporean? Do not unbutton your straitjacket.

But seriously, since there can't be legislation that outlaws this in Singapore, does this mean the police, by insisting on such a rule, are exceeding their powers?

The owner of Tantric Bar had the presence of mind to ask the police: what about Zouk-out and other beach parties? People take off their tops there -- why one rule for them and another for my bar? The police had no answer.

Likewise, though no one asked, why one rule for Mardi Gras girls and another for Tequila girls?

In the phone call to Club95, the other small bar, the police essentially said: make sure all your licences are in order and all conditions scrupulously adhered to. If we find even one deviation when we visit, we will not hesitate to prosecute.

The police also demanded that the owner come down for an interview, calling her several times even when she was in Europe. In the end, the owner felt so harassed by our guardians of law and order (the same people who are supposed to protect us from harassment from stalkers and gangsters) she gave up and cancelled her event at Club95.

So the bullying tactics work. One of the three IndigNation club events was lost.

Coming back to Tantric Bar, at their event, Paradise 2006 on 5 August, four plainclothes officers, all male, showed up without tags at 10.35 pm. They walked around the small bar for 5 minutes, inspecting the toilet and back exit as well, probably looking for violations of the fire safety code [1]. I was following them, so I saw it all with my own eyes.

Then they sat out at the main door for about 10 minutes with the manager, asking questions about how many people were inside and what sort of customers patronised this bar. The point of such a line of questioning escapes me. So what if the customers are gay? Are we more prone to rioting or jihadism?

The above question sounds like a joke, but if it is, it's meant as a pointed one. The only way one can explain the bizarre behaviour of our police is through grasping that they do not know anything about the gay community. They're going about their jobs without bothering to know any facts. Instead they are operating on assumptions. What are these?

  1. "Gay" means people who like to expose themselves by taking off their clothes at the drop of a hat, french-kiss anybody and everybody, fornicate in public and use toilets meant for the opposite sex.
  2. The above applies equally to lesbians, because they call themselves gay too. No need to check if it's true.
  3. It goes without saying that such behaviour is disorderly and against the law (if there is no law then there SHOULD be a law and the police will enforce the not-yet-enacted law in the meantime, e.g. against taking off one's shirt or wearing bikinis)

Here is my explanation then: Acting on these (mis)assumptions, when the police heard about IndigNation, they scrambled to make their rude phone calls to the various bars and to demand that owners and organisers show up for "interviews". Top of the agenda would be to find out if the dire security threat called Fridae.com is infiltrating Singapore again, after being banished like Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda.

But can't they see that they are over-reacting to gay Pride? Can't they see they are being irrational?


Thanks to HotAsian for this bit of
 news that I had missed:
4 August 2006
'Today' newspaper

Police may reduce their role in licensing

The police may no longer be the agency issuing licences or regulating businesses that do not cause law and order problems.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said yesterday he has asked the law enforcement agency to relook its areas of responsibility.

Speaking at the Home Team National Day Observance ceremony, Mr Wong said the police should not be distracted by non-policing issues.

They can then refocus on core areas of responsibility in security, and law and order.

According to 938Live, a review is underway.

Currently, the police are in charge of issuing licences for areas to do with liquor, public entertainment and massage services.

[article truncated]


* * * * *

Singapore likes to bandy about the slogan "Diversity". The narrative above tells you how gays and lesbians view such pious pronouncements as something more akin to a sick joke.

But the point of this picture is still about silly laws and over-the-top law enforcement.

You see, since the police have been so busy watching and hounding gays and lesbians -- and training to fight "troublemakers" (i.e. civil society activists) who may come to Singapore in conjunction with the World Bank and IMF summit next month -- they might have no more time left to enforce other laws. 

For example, rule 9(3) of the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Rules states:

(3) The Flag shall not be ≠ 

(a) used in any trademark or for any commercial purpose; 
(b) used as a means, or for the purposes, of advertisement; 
(c) used as, or as part of, any furnishings, decoration, covering or receptacle; 
(d) displayed or used at any private funeral activity; or 
(e) incorporated or worn as part of any costume or attire.

Rule 14(2) states -

(2) Any person who knowingly ≠ 

(a) does any act in relation to the Flag in contravention of any of the provisions of rule 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 (3) or 10; or 
(b) contravenes rule 8 or 9 (4) in relation to the Flag; 

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

The photograph is of an illuminated poster near a bus stop. There are quite a number of them at prominent locations all over Singapore. It is a commercial advertisement for HSBC, a bank. Quite evidently the Singapore flag is being worn as a "costume or attire". So quite evidently, a law is being broken and the violation is flaunted all over the city too.

So why haven't the police arrested the CEO of HSBC and put him in leg-irons? 

Instead, why invest so much time and effort hounding gays and lesbians over imaginary rules about shirts and bikinis and not enforce a real one about flags? As I asked above, can't they see that they are over-reacting to gay Pride? Can't they see they are being irrational?

Perhaps they can, but that is not the point. The point is not to be rational, but to respond to their political masters' paranoia. The political class sees gays as a threat to Singapore; the government has previously gone apoplectic over Fridae.com and their Nation parties, and and the police see their job as serving their masters. What has fair and rational policing got to do with anything?

The point is to cover your backsides and not risk getting a scolding from the minister. Fear of a reprimand from him banishes reason. Servitude overrides professionalism.

© Yawning Bread 


Thanks to reader's comment #22 (8 August 2006, 12.45 pm) for this bit of news:
Man gets beaten up. Police (at first) says it's a civil case, not a criminal case.

On 8 August 2006, the Straits Times Forum published a letter from a Liew Sok Kuan, expressing her dismay at the attitude of the police when her brother was assaulted by 6 - 8 young men.

On April 15, he had been at a food stall in Geylang Lorong 9, around 11.30 pm, when the youths accused him of staring at them.

The matter soon escalated and her brother was beaten in the face and abdomen, suffering facial fractures and damage to one of his facial nerves, necessitating a three-hour surgical operation. Six months on, he is still recovering and permanent damage is expected.

"Immediately after the assault," Liew wrote in her letter, "when the gang ran to their motorcycles which were parked nearby, my brother gave chase and, despite his pain and the bleeding, called 999."

He was able to provide 2 of the motorcycles' registration numbers. However, the police didn't show up until 20 minutes later, "and then only after a second call."

"My brother told them what happened and urged them to alert police patrol cars nearby to be on the lookout as the motorcyclists were probably not too far away. Quite shockingly, the police declined and instead asked him to lodge a report with the Magistrates' Court, and left."

Not only did the police do little on the night itself, despite the serious injuries that the victim suffered, the police, according to Liew, "were unwilling to take up the case."

"The police advised that this was a civil case and it was for the magistrate to decide if any action was to be taken," she wrote.

Continuing, she said, "One would have thought that when anyone is assaulted by a gang of six to eight hooligans and suffered injuries to the extent that my brother did, the case would have been classified as causing grievous hurt and pursued as a criminal case."

It should be noted that the rest of Liew's letter may contradict the previous paragraph. While the details are not clear, it seems that the police did classify it as a criminal case soon after.

Nor would it be correct that magistrate's decisions are necessary for civil claims.

However, her chief point that the constables at the scene were less than prompt, and might have attempted to wash their hands of the case, stands. This delay would have reduced the chances of identifying and apprehending the culprits.

As the reader wrote, referring to the
 manner in which the police allocate
 resources, "How does it work?"




  1. You might ask, what's so unusual about inspecting premises for fire safety violations? Don't the police do that from time to time? Yes and no. My understanding from Tantric Bar is that over the years that they have been operating, the police have been stepping in roughly once a year. On each occasion, they do a quick walk-through -- a minute or two -- and then out again. But this time, they scrutinised the back door, its lock etc, and sat at the front for some more time. One cannot but see that motive is different, and if so, one has to ask why is the motive different this time around?
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