Last edited: May 15, 2004

Chief Justice Halves Oral Sex Offender’s Jail Term

Singapore Today, February 18, 2004

By Raymond Andrew

A FORMER policeman, convicted for having oral sex with a 16-year-old girl, had his sentence halved by Chief Justice Yong Pung How yesterday.

But Annis bin Abdullah, who pleaded guilty and was convicted on Nov 6 last year, was still ticked off by CJ Yong, despite having his two-year jail sentence reduced to 12 months.

The decision, however, could also have an impact on three similar cases at the Subordinate Courts, which have been postponed pending this decision.

CJ Yong also said that the ongoing public debate over whether to abolish Section 377 of the Penal Code was an issue to be discussed in Parliament and had no bearing on proceedings.

Annis’ conviction started a public debate on whether the law against oral sex, which is punishable by a life sentence, is still appropriate. The Government is considering decriminalising consensual oral sex between adults.

Defence counsel Mr SS Dhillon, who described the previous sentence as “manifestly excessive”, hailed CJ Yong’s decision as a “landmark” decision because the law on consensual oral sex was not clear and because Section 377 carries a wide range of sentences.

The prosecution, represented by Senior State Counsel Khoo Oon Soo, conceded the sentence was “unprecedented”.

Mr Dhillon argued that the offence had not been “aggravating” in nature: The teenager had consented to the act, Annis had not coerced or forced the girl and Annis had met the victim once, on the day of the offence—April 23, 2002.

Mr Dhillon also argued that Annis was a first offender, had admitted his guilt and had cooperated with the authorities.

CJ Yong said that consent in this case was not straightforward. “Consent by adults is one thing, consent by a child of 16 is another thing,” he said. He added that all the facts had to be taken into account when determining consent. “You drive her out into the ulu-ulu (remote areas). You ask for sex, she gracefully declines and then you ask for fellatio. She’s not going to decline,” he said.

In what could be read as a defence of Section 377, CJ Yong said: “This is Asia you know … There are certain countries where certain offences cause real offence …”

An Unpublished Letter in Response to the Article Above

I refer to the article, “CJ halves oral-sex sentence” in the ST, 18th Feb.

In it, the Chief Justice is reported to have said, in condemnation of oral sex, that ‘there are certain offences against Asian culture’.

I feel this statement embodies one of the main arguments against oral sex, or in fact against anything our society is supposed to be opposed to—that it’s against our Asian heritage. Over the years, the cry of “but this is Asia!” has been used in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia to justify all sorts of existing social inequities and problems.

That is a patently untenable argument. If we were to follow everything our ‘Asian heritage’ (which I will regard as being ancient Chinese cultural mores) appears to ask us to, then perhaps we should reinstate female foot binding? Shouldn’t we demolish our red-light districts? Unless those correspond to the brothels in Chinese history and literature. And I certainly would not like to see our fair and clean government compared to the unwieldy, corrupt bureacracies that existed through much of China’s history. While I see the merits of and try to to be guided by many Asian philosophies like Confucianism etc, I believe that Asian heritage is neither as homogeneous nor as “pure” as many would like to believe.

Moreover, much of what we regard as our heritage right now, has actually been shaped by non-Asian forces over the years. With specific regards to oral sex, the proscription against the act is ironically not even Asian at all. It is British, and another archaic legacy left by our former colonizers. To whit, only those countries formerly under the British flag, such as Singapore and Malaysia, bear these laws. Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and even China do not have these. These are certainly Asian countries, and perhaps even conservative ones by our standards. Of course I do not advocate the wanton adoption of any moral standard based on what’s popular at the moment. I only think what we perceive as our Asian heritage and what it actually is, can be two very different things. With this arbitrariness as to what constitutes being Asian, compassion and common sense should dominate when judging social questions for oneself.

For the many who often use the “Asian defense” to cut down any kind of uncomfortable change, I’d like to add that our traditions are a link for us to our past, to be celebrated as evidence of our will to thrive and our unity. They should not be used to shield us from the realities of the changing world and/or a substitute for reason. After all, one of the greatest Asian values is the courage to adapt.

-Zuan Yi

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