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It was two years ago when Donald Piret first met his boyfriend. They were volunteers at a booth giving out flyers and badges at Pink Dot SG, an annual LGBT rally in Singapore. One year later, they celebrated their anniversary.

“[Pink Dot SG] has become a kind of anniversary with my partner, and we had hoped to celebrate it over there,” said the 33-year-old Belgian.

Unfortunately, the increased restrictions this year would mean they’d have take their party somewhere else.

The couple was in Hong Kong last year during the rally and couldn’t attend. They, however, celebrated their anniversary on the day of Pink Dot.

“We were so looking forward to having it at the original location this year,” Piret said.

“It’s very encouraging to see entire families spending the day together for this event. It shows signs of progressively increased tolerance and acceptance within our society.”

 

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Since last year, Pink Dot SG was clobbered with a series of curbs starting with a ban on foreign sponsors.

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues,” said Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry in a statement published 7 June last year, a few days after Pink Dot 2016.

Google, Barclays BP, and Goldman Sachs were among the biggest foreign sponsors.

The dent was fixed when 120 local companies swooped in to fill the gaps. It raised SGD$240,000, surpassing the expected amount and succeeding past-years contributions. (For more information on corporate sponsorship, please refer to www.reddotforpinkdot.com)

The hammer came down again in April. A change in the Public Order Act banned foreigners from even setting foot in the rally, failing which could result in a fine as high as SGD$10,000 or up to six months of prison time.

“The amendment to the Public Order Act increases the risk of criminalisation of peaceful assembly in Singapore and will stigmatise those who participate in these rallies,” the statement reads.

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Pink Dot SG’s organisers announced a month later that barricades will be installed around the perimeter of the rally including mandatory bag and identity checks.

Organisers said in a press conference that the set-up was the “only measure deemed acceptable by authorities.”

“This was a decision taken out of our hands and is something we do not readily agree with,” said Paerin Choa, a spokesperson for Pink Dot SG, referring to the barricades.

Although security personnel have been deployed for the past three years due to massive turnouts, upwards of 60 guards will be policing the perimeter this year.

Singapore’s home affairs minister said this is necessary owing to a volatile security climate and terror threats seen overseas during crowded events.

Amnesty International, a global human rights watch, has baptised this move a “disturbing precedent” for Singapore.

“The amendment to the Public Order Act increases the risk of criminalisation of peaceful assembly in Singapore and will stigmatise those who participate in these rallies,” the statement reads.

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In the past, foreigners were allowed to observe the rally. Non-permanent residents like Piret could attend but not hold any signs or banners. Additionally, they could not be part of the rally’s main event: forming a park-wide pink dot with pink torchlights.

“The [rally] two years ago was actually my first one. I had always been interested in the event as it is a chance for people to just be themselves and celebrate tolerance. But I’d always been a bit reticent to join given the laws governing the Speaker’s Corner,” said Piret.

Speaker’s Corner is the only place Singaporeans can hold protests and rallies after getting permission from the government.

“That year I decided to join anyway because of the volunteering, and just avoided being part of the formation of the dot,” he said.

Like many foreigners working in the city-state barred from the parade this year, Piret is disappointed but respects the decision. He said they’ll just have to celebrate their anniversary in a different way.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work and live in this country so (I) definitely intend to adhere by its laws,” said Piret, who’s worked in the lion city for seven years.

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Singapore cradles a population of around 5.6 million people. About 30 percent are foreigners who hold renewable work permits. Those who meet certain criteria can apply for permanent resident (PR) status in Singapore.

Permanent residents can attend rallies like Pink Dot SG, like Piret’s boyfriend who’s Malaysian. He declined to be named.

“[My boyfriend] got his PR status recently but of course he doesn’t want to go without me,” said Piret, who himself has been applying for a PR status.

However, Singapore’s recently tightened immigration laws prove a canyon-wide hurdle for him. “I’ve been rejected three times already, but I’m definitely not giving up,” he said.

“I’ve felt for a long time that Singapore has really become the place I would like to call home. My life and my friends are here now and I can’t really see myself living anywhere else anymore.”

Pink Dot SG is in its ninth chapter and will take place on 1 July this year. The pioneer event in 2009 saw a crowd of 2,500 as estimated by the organisers, with numbers increasing every year. Over 28,000 poured into the rally in 2015.

6Photo credits: Pinkdot

 

This article is written by:
Derek Cai
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From Singapore, Derek is a journalist by day, and a Tv-junkie by night. He’s had (some) experience in writing for print and digital platforms, but has recently quit his job to binge-watch Tv shows at home, in boxers, while waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones. He is currently a producer with NHK producing news in the Singapore bureau.