16 Feb 2015

Singapore law society suspends lawyer noted for challenging anti-gay law

A human rights lawyer from Singapore who is pushing for decriminalization of gay sex and protection from discrimination through the courts has been suspended by the city-state’s law society. 

"I would like to protest against the Law Society's oppressive, arbitrary, discriminatory and inappropriate manner in which they have suspended me," lawyer M. Ravi told Reuters.

The Reuters news agency cited The Law Society of Singapore as saying it was concerned about the state of Ravi's mental health and which it said came in the way of his ability to practice law. 

The Law Society a media statement issued Feb 12 said Ravi had still appeared in court despite his psychiatrist diagnosing him as being hypomanic and certifying him as medically unfit. Ravi dismissed concerns about his mental health.

The Law Society was also quoted as saying that its decision to suspend Ravi had nothing to do with the lawyer’s political views. 

"The Law Society of Singapore have not been enamored of Ravi for quite some time and have sought opportunities to knock him down," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, according to Reuters.

Ravi is noted for mounting a constitutional challenge against Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. Singapore retains a British colonial-era Section 377A that criminalizes same-sex relations with imprisonment for a term that may extend to two years. 

On Sept 24, 2010, Ravi initiated a constitutional challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code. The country’s highest court past October upheld that colonial-era law criminalising gay sex and said it did not infringe on human rights under Singapore’s constitution. 

Ravi criticized that judgment saying it was a step backwards for human rights in Singapore. “It appears that this absurd and discriminatory law criminalizes the core aspect of an individual’s identity, in this case, homosexual men. This unequal treatment in the law is based on hatred for hatred’s sake, and discrimination for discrimination’s sake, and nothing else,” media had then quoted him as saying. 

Ravi was admitted to the Singapore Bar in 1997. He graduated from the University of Cardiff in UK as well as from the National University of Singapore. Asia Sentinel has described Ravi as having “an aggressive and somewhat discursive courtroom style that can yield dividends.”

The lawyer was last year given the Asian Pink Awards organized by the Singapore gay men’s magazine Element to celebrate its first anniversary of publication.  The awards celebrated individuals and businesses who actively campaigned for diversity and social acceptance of the LGBTQI community. At the awards ceremony there were big cheers for Ravi noted for his efforts to protect the gay community from discrimination through the courts and for supporting his clients in mounting the legal challenges.