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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 August 2005, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Gay Pride protesters claim abuse - BBC
Some of the participants in the Belfast Gay Pride march
Protesters against a gay rights parade in Belfast say they will be seeking sanctions against it next year because of the behaviour of some marchers.
The Stop the Parades Coalition, which failed to get the Parades Commission to ban it, said some participants broke agreed guidelines by shouting abuse.
The organisers of the Gay Pride march said it was the most successful yet, with over 4,500 people taking part.
Police said there were no reports of any trouble during the parade.
Stop the Parades Coalition spokesman James Dowson said they were called "bigots and religious fundamentalist murderers" by some marchers.
"We will be going down the avenue next year of hopefully getting sanctions applied to the parade to make sure they fall into the confines," he said.
"We are doing what we said we would do - unfortunately they have broken their word and behaved in a very inappropriate way again."
Parade steward Andrew David Clarke said he felt the 15th annual Gay Pride march had passed off peacefully.
"I do understand people have different concerns about it," he said.
"Thankfully today we have been able to have our peaceful, fun parade, the protests have gone extremely peacefully, and I would commend everybody on the ground."
Last Updated: Saturday, 6 August 2005, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
Northern Ireland's gays march on
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News, Belfast
If parades are what you are after, this is the place to be - marching is so much a part of life here, they have a season named after it.
The serious intent of Pride 2005 did not dampen the carnival spirit
And if your cause happens to be not local politics but the right to be gay, does the culture not dictate banners, bands and your best foot forward?
Throw in coloured balloons and boas, disco floats and a posse of superheroes on mini motorcycles, and you have the 2005 Belfast Gay Pride, dancing its way around the city centre this Saturday.
Bar a homophobic joke or two, there was little sign of indignation - and much good humour - among the crowds lining Royal Avenue to see the carnival in its 15th year, among them many families.
Where outrage did surface was among the organised protesters, facing down the avenue from the City Hall with a show of placards like shields in this city famous for the strength of its religious feeling.
It must be hard to keep a straight face, no pun intended, when a glam guitar man on stilts in a giant pink Afro wig staggers by to the strains of Madonna's Like A Prayer, but the hugely outnumbered Stop The Parade (STP) activists stood their ground, bearing witness with dignity to their Christian faith in the teeth of what, for them, is a celebration of sin.
So strong has their feeling been that this year they tried to have the Pride march banned through Northern Ireland's Parades Commission - a body more used to causes coloured Orange and Green, not Pink.
"If you don't want to see what is going on on Royal Avenue, stay away for an hour - it's only for an hour every year"
Belfast hair salon manager
Growing up gay in Belfast
Their bid was rejected but the application made a live issue of an established event, publicising "sensitivities" around the Pride that its organisers had barely noticed in past years.
"It had become more of a carnival, more of a party, but now it has almost turned on its head and become political again," Belfast Pride's Andi Clarke told the BBC News website.
"Because there is opposition, people are actually getting up and saying 'No, hang on, there is a case here, people are not going to be suppressed anymore, not here in Northern Ireland in 2005'.
While most parade-goers are gay men or women or transexual/transgendered, a large number are heterosexual, he adds, and he was hoping to top the 2004 turnout of 3,000.
One thing you hear repeatedly among the local gay community is that the Pride is one of the few genuinely cross-community events in Northern Ireland, transcending barriers between Protestants and Catholics.
But there is also a perception that the easing of the Troubles has led to a search for new scapegoats.
"The old sectarian tensions aren't an excuse anymore," said Andi Clarke. "I feel people are channelling their anger to the ethnic minorities, to sexual minorities instead."
Gays, as another Pride organiser put it, are "probably the most discriminated-against group in Northern Ireland".
Tattooed on the torsos of some of the 2005 paraders were the words "forbidden fruit", playing on a local term of abuse for homosexuals.
Many believe the term "gay" was coined as a happy abbreviation for Good As You - something the BBC News website put to STP's Jonathan Larner.
Stop The Parade was one of several groups on the protest
"I most definitely do not regard myself as any better than a homosexual on a moral level - Good As You is quite correct," he replied.
His group's aim, he said, was to make gay people aware of the Bible's teachings on homosexuality and their "need of repentance from sin and faith alone in Jesus Christ".
STP was, he said, "pigeon-holed as hateful and homophobic" but, in the view of Christians like himself, "the far greater hate would be shown by staying at home and doing nothing".
If preaching was one aim of the protesters - and they do believe they may have convinced at least two gay people at the 2004 Belfast Pride - then another was to uphold public decency.
"To us the sexual gesturing, nudity and innuendo are post-watershed [late evening TV] stuff and not acceptable," Jonathan Larner said.
Talking, not shouting
Some costumes at the 2005 Pride may have been a bit risque but probably no worse than at the cabaret in the old French comedy La Cage Aux Folles.
And certainly not a patch on the outfits I saw earlier this summer on a weekend in Cologne which coincided with its vast Pride events.
Yet at the German event, straight people on the streets did not appear to bat an eyelid as gay men and women thronged the Old City where every other cafe or pub displayed rainbow flags.
There was a feeling that these gay people were accepted as an organic part of the community, free to live differently but equally in modern Europe.
By contrast, furious protests accompanied Prides in Riga and Bucharest while Warsaw banned its event, although Polish gays marched anyway.
And a major test for gay rights is looming in May 2006, if Russia's gay community presses ahead with the first Moscow Pride - something the mayor has vowed to ban.
In the event, Belfast's parade passed off without incident but its organisers remain determined to maintain public awareness of their pride in their orientation and their rights
"Society is finally being trained that discrimination is unacceptable, that we live in a very diverse world and that people need to accept others," Andi Clarke said.
As the balloons drift out over the Irish Sea, this year's dispute in Belfast may be remembered for one positive aspect.
During the Parades Commission's mediation, the Pride committee sat down for talks with the Christian protesters - a first according to both sides. If they did not reach much agreement, at least the flags and placards were down.
Have you been on a Pride this summer and met a hostile reaction? Do you see tolerance of gay people as a key test of European values? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.
Last Updated: Saturday, 6 August 2005, 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Growing up gay in Belfast
Paul Meekin runs a top hair salon in Belfast and has been openly gay since his teens. Here he talks to the BBC News website about life for gay people in Belfast, during the Troubles and since:
Paul's salon has a strict policy of non-discrimination
The gay scene in Belfast goes right back to the 1960s. There were always bars in Belfast where people knew they could meet other people and there were various other places.
The scene now is the best there's ever been. Belfast has never had it so good.
During the Troubles not many people would go into the city centre and the town was empty so we were more or less left to our own devices and it was a very interesting time.
The main hotels were very well known for quite a big gay component. There were a few of the bigger bars and clubs which were owned by gay people. So I found it very easy in those days.
At one stage during the Troubles, there was only one bar going because of the bombs but everybody, from both communities, was together. I mean there was a bit of friendly banter but it was never venomous.
It's a funny thing that when the Troubles started to abate places that courted the gay business actually started to reject the gay business. I suppose in a way it's a form of homophobia. A lot of people fought to get into these places but, like, if they don't want my money, I'll take my money elsewhere and vote with my feet.
So then gay people started getting their own acts together and opening their own places which I think is a very good thing.
I think people had been so busy and locked up in the Troubles that they didn't bother with gay people and there hadn't been as much queer-bashing.
And then all of a sudden people had a lot less to do with their time and they started going into town and so gay people became more visible in Belfast and that's when things started to happen. Even people I know have been attacked in town when they were walking home. But the police are very supportive.
I think that people here don't understand how other people are different and instead of embracing it they actually end up trying to evangelise and spread their views rather than enriching their lives with something a little different.
One hour a year
If you don't want to see what is going on on Royal Avenue [Gay Pride route through Belfast city centre], stay away for an hour - it's only for an hour every year.
The Kremlin club sees itself as the heart of "Ireland's first gay village"
It's like everything else: if you don't like what's on your television switch it off. It's never offensive. There is nothing worse going to happen on Royal Avenue on Saturday than you're going to see on your TV or at any other Mardi Gras. Rio has a carnival every year. The people are partially naked. I don't think there will be anybody too naked in Belfast - for a start, the weather wouldn't hold up to it!
I know gay people who have careers in accountancy, who have careers in offices where the environment is very, very much conservative. I work in a creative environment so people don't really care what you are, who you are.
But it's a big deal to some people. If someone finds out that someone is different or something is strange it just spreads like wildfire. The person feels isolated and there are no support mechanisms. They're scared to come out because they're in fear of losing their jobs or persecution.
I would say the situation for gays in Northern Ireland outside Belfast is extremely difficult. There's nothing outside Belfast. Most would go straight to London and live their lives elsewhere.
I'm just lucky that I have a very supportive family and most of my friends are married couples. I don't have that ghetto mentality. I just live as a normal person - I must say, normal in inverted commas!
You'll always get the one person with extreme views and you're never going to change them no matter what. In general, the punter doesn't give a damn what you are.
On a one-to-one basis, people take you as you are.
I think the problem is that there are some gay people who can't leave the bedroom in the bedroom. Straight people generally don't go around talking about what they do in the bedroom.
My private life is my private life and, as I say, most of my friends are straight and I don't discuss my private life with them.
Interview taken by Patrick Jackson, BBC News
Roberts' Senate hearing to raise many questions
By Thomas Ferraro
Sun Aug 7,11:28 AM ET - Reuters
U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will be grilled on matters from abortion to civil rights when his Senate confirmation hearing opens, but a key issue is how much the 50-year-old conservative will answer.
Getting responses from Roberts on where he stands on issues may be Democrats' only hope of blocking what opponents view as a move by President Bush to shift the nation's top court to the right.
If confirmed, Roberts, a federal appeals judge, will replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream conservative who often cast the decisive vote on the closely divided court.
"Federal court candidates, who serve for life, should explain their judicial philosophy and their method of legal reasoning," said Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), a New York Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee member who has already given Roberts a seven-page list of questions.
Key to the process will be committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), a moderate Republican who will run the televised hearings that begin Sept. 6.
Specter wrote in his 2000 book "Passion for Truth" that "the Senate should resist, if not refuse, to confirm Supreme Court nominees who refuse to answer questions on fundamental issues."
He notes, however, that "nominees tend to answer just as many questions as they have to in order to be confirmed."
Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record), a Utah Republican and former chairman of the committee, said panel members can ask what they want. "But we must realize, as we have in the past, that simply asking a question does not mean a judicial nominee should answer it," he said.
Republicans also contend Roberts should not have to prejudge any case that could come before him.
That means he could refuse to answer many questions. The nation's top court deals with virtually every major issue affecting Americans, from terrorism and church-state disputes to the balance of power between the federal and state governments.
"Historically, nominees have not been asked particularly probing questions, and when asked they have not answered," said Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA.
Hatch noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, had a rule when asked to prejudge issues or cases: "No hints, no forecasts, no previews." She was confirmed, 96-3.
Republican party Chairman Ken Mehlman said last week, "I believe Judge Roberts has the right to expect the same treatment, and the same swift confirmation."
While no Democrats have announced plans to oppose him, they want to know where Roberts, who served in the administrations of two previous Republican presidents, stands on some landmark Supreme Court rulings such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said he doubts a nominee could be confirmed unless he or she views Roe v. Wade as "settled law of the land."
Roberts said just that before being confirmed two years ago to the federal appeals court. However, he is unlikely to repeat it, because he is now bidding for a place on the high court, which can reverse earlier precedents.
Democrats have also demanded access to internal documents on Roberts relating to divisive issues including school desegregation, the death penalty and civil rights. The Justice Department on Friday refused to release some of the requested documents from Roberts' work for the agency, saying it was not in the public interest.
Volokh said an exception to the pattern of nominees not answering questions was Robert Bork, "who answered questions in great detail and got rejected."
Bork was nominated in 1987 by Republican President Ronald Reagan and viewed by critics as a conservative extremist.
Specter, not chairman at the time, opposed Bork, saying, "I believe there is substantial doubt as to how he would apply fundamental principles of constitutional law."
Dare to CARE
On a variety of fronts, especially medical, queer people are facing the heat
ALONGKORN PARIVUDHIPHONGS (Bangkok Post 2005/08/08)
Y utthachai Preeyamas feels comfortable with his sexual orientation, and is accepted by his family and friends as one of those Men Who Have Sex with Men, or MSM. But when the 27-year-old went to see a doctor with a rectal problem, he was surprised by the doctor's reaction.
``Instead of treating me professionally, the physician told me to quit being homosexual. He asked me why I couldn't love a woman. He also preached to me that anal sex was a channel for the HIV/Aids epidemic and recommended that I change my abnormal sexuality,'' he recalls.
Another MSM, Pornsak (not his real name), said he was frustrated when he went to the Red Cross to donate blood. On the application form, he was requested to state his sexual activities for safety purposes. ``I felt uneasy when the nurse asked me if I was an MSM. I understood that the question was meant to check whether I was engaging in risky behaviour or not, but after all, isn't it mandatory to test all donated blood from everyone, whether straight or homosexual?''
A transgendered man, Nisarat (not her real name), also suffers from the same bias against homosexuality; she was not allowed to apply for private health insurance. ``An insurance company rejected my application right away when they saw me. They said that, being a transgendered man, I have a high risk of HIV/Aids infection. But heterosexuals are as susceptible to HIV/Aids as homosexuals, aren't they?''
It can be even more troublesome for women who love women.
``Many avoid seeing doctors when it comes to problems with private parts because they feel uneasy being asked about their sexual behaviour. They usually end up finding pills at a drugstore, rather than seeking professional advice,'' says Nattaya Boonpakdee of the Women's Health Advocacy Foundation (WHAF).
Problems such as these were addressed at the 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies, held recently in Bangkok. Some 500 scholars, human rights activists, artists and film-makers convened to discuss, research and document Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) cultures.
The conference examined how the quality of life for people with same-sex partners is affected by limited physical and psychosocial health care, a significant issue in the age of the HIV/Aids epidemic, widespread sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and transgender operations.
``The attitude of health care providers is a critical factor in determining whether people with same-sex relationships can have access to quality health care,'' said Assoc Prof Peter Jackson, from the Australian National University in Canberra, a key organiser of the conference.
The growth of LGBT groups in Thailand, such as the Fa Si Roong (Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand, or RSA), the Bangkok Rainbow Group and M-Plus for gay men, plus Anjaree and Lesla for lesbians, has helped provide services to homosexuals in difficult situations by reducing the sense of isolation and providing support.
``The [health] services are much needed but still inadequate. Mainstream social programmes and public attitudes toward queers as deviants and pitiful people still loom large,'' said Viroj Tangvanich, president of RSA, the first and only gay organisation registered with the Office of the National Culture Commission in Thailand.
Participants at the conference emphasised differences amongst the three main groups of LGBTs when it comes to health issues:
MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men)
Risky sexual behaviour is a major concern among MSM groups. But in the on-going battle with HIV/Aids, STDs, hepatitis, rectal cancers and, increasingly, anal warts (anal condyloma acuminate), MSMs in Thailand still have to fight sexual bias caused by the limited availability of professional services, equipment and well-trained public health personnel, says Rapepun Jommaroeng from RSA.
``There was a case in which a doctor asked a patient, `Why does it hurt when I insert the probe? Isn't anal sex more painful?' He lacks the sensitivity needed for MSM treatment,'' Rapepun says.
He adds that many times the focus is on sex-related diseases only, with basic health issues overlooked ``Heavy alcohol consumption and smoking are rarely mentioned as health threats among MSM. Insomnia and restlessness have also become prevalent among the group. But few studies pay attention to these issues,'' he says.
Besides, the group also suffers psychological problems, mainly stress, in family, school and work situations. There is also the problem of self-acceptance.
``While struggling to understand themselves, some homosexuals can't function well at school _ they're afraid their peers and teachers will not accept their sexual preference. In some conservative families, gay teens can be kicked out of the house and become homeless or even criminal,'' he says.
``Most gay men do not have role models that would help them develop their identity more confidently. And general meeting spaces are also limited to gay areas, such as Silom sois 2 and 4, public parks and saunas, which is not the best way to learn about oneself,'' he adds.
Another problem lies in the inter-ministerial conflict of government policy towards gay health and lifestyles. ``While the Ministry of Health promotes the use of condoms in saunas, the Ministry of the Interior raids saunas and regards used condoms found there as evidence of prostitution.''
TGs, or katoey in Thai, are increasingly common in Thailand, but their growing numbers have not led to an increase in the sort of information and specialist health services that they require.
``Many TGs believe that they are women trapped in the bodies of men, and to be able to find true love, mostly with straight men, they have to transform themselves into women. That's why sex change surgery tends to become their ultimate goal,'' says Pornthep Prae-kao, a PhD candidate at Khon Kaen University's Nursing School.
Sex change surgery comes at a cost: many trade their physical health for psychological happiness and self-esteem.
``After the removal of the testicles, the body cannot produce male hormones, so patients have to rely heavily on hormone tablets to maintain an equilibrium in their body chemicals for the rest of their lives.''
But such drugs are not without side effects, which include nausea, dizziness and premature ageing. Some have to change hormones constantly to find ones that will work properly, a process that causes both physical pain and psychological frustration.
``If they stop taking hormone pills, the skin can become rough and start ageing faster, making them look older than they really are. Many stop seeking their doctors' advice because of the expense and instead rely on advice from friends about new treatments.''
Without continuous professional care, many will also experience other health problems such as permanent fatigue, constant pain in their new sexual organs, incontinence and loss of sexual desire.
``One 21-year-old TG man said she had no idea why she did it [the operation] in the first place. She felt it was normal for TG men to have a sex-change operation, but later she questioned herself as to why she had to make herself a sick woman, when she could have been physically healthy as a man,'' Pornthep says.
To have a female voice, many undergo laser operations on the vocal cords, or a paring down of the Adam's apple, which carries a 50 percent risk of causing muteness.
``But many take the risk to become real women,'' Pornthep adds.
Some TGs will never gain acceptance from their families and communities, especially as they grow older.
Without public acceptance of their individual choices, many become the subject of constant mockery. Some even attempt suicide.
``I know one TG who decided to remove her artificial breasts while she was in her early forties. She didn't want her younger relatives to regard her as a weirdo. It was a traumatic decision for her but she wanted to be normal in their eyes,'' he recalls.
While many TGs work as cabaret performers, female impersonators and make-up artists, some, especially those who have poor education and have run away from home, end up as sex workers. Without proper health services, they fall victim to STDs and HIV/Aids.
``Some clients avoid using condoms with TGs as they assume that TGs are not really prostitutes, and many TGs consent in order to please their clients. Many are under the influence of drugs and alcohol when they have unprotected sex,'' says Sitthiphan Boonyapisompan, supervisor of the Outreach programme at Population Services International (PSI) Asia, which was established to provide support to TGs in Pattaya.
When they are arrested for lewd conduct, the legal procedures _ such as whether to treat them as men, women or TGs _ are not always clear-cut and transparent, Sitthiphan says. This also applies to charges of rape. Male-to-female TGs can only file an indecency charge (anacharn in Thai) but not a criminal charge, as they are not recognised
Today's HIV Patients: Just as Heavy as the General Population
By Randy Dotinga
SUNDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- As they become healthier and live longer lives, people infected with HIV are now facing an unexpected new threat: obesity.
University of Pennsylvania researchers report that 45 percent of HIV-positive people studied were overweight or obese. That's not especially high: it's about the same as the general population. But the number is striking considering that just a decade ago, many HIV patients went on to develop AIDS and wasted away as they headed toward death.
A generation of drugs introduced in the mid-1990s has extended the life spans of people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and allowed them to live fairly normal lives.
Study co-author Dr. Valerianna Amorosa and her colleagues noticed in recent years that infected individuals had started to pack on the pounds.
"It looked like they were getting obese just like anyone else," said Amorosa, clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania.
Amorosa and her colleagues launched an obesity study, examining the medical records of 1,669 HIV-positive patients who had visited several local Philadelphia hospitals since 1999. Nearly 80 percent were men, and 60 percent were black.
While Latinos were underrepresented, the sample was pretty much an accurate snapshot of the HIV-infected population in Philadelphia, Amorosa said.
The findings appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
According to the report, 31 percent of the patients were defined as being overweight because they had body mass indexes -- a ratio of height to weight -- between 25 and 30. Those with body mass indexes higher than 30 -- making them obese -- made up 14 percent of the patients.
A 5-foot, 4-inch person would need to weigh 175 pounds or more to be obese; the scales would have to top 221 pounds for a 6-foot tall person.
"Now, people are resuming more normal lives, but they're not resuming more fit lives," said Dr. Michael Horberg, director of HIV/AIDS policy at the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Only 9e percent of the people in the study were found to be suffering from "wasting," a once-common condition in AIDS patients in which they became thinner as their illness progressed.
Although their overweight rates were about the same, women were more likely to be obese than men. Confirming common assumptions about tobacco use, smokers were less likely to be fat, the researchers found.
Amorosa acknowledged that study participants might be much happier to be obese, especially if they worry about becoming sick and like the idea of a buffer of excess weight. "Clearly, that's the case for some patients: they're not unhappy to be obese."
Still, she said, obesity isn't healthy. Whether they're infected with HIV or not, overweight people tend to suffer from a variety of health conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to arthritis and sleep apnea.
The study didn't examine whether AIDS drugs could be inadvertently contributing to weight gain; the medications have already been linked to higher cholesterol levels.
Gay men, who tend to smoke and drink more than the rest of the population, may be at special risk of developing health problems because of obesity, said Kaiser Permanente's Horberg. "Weight control," he said, "is essential."
Learn more about HIV prevention and treatment from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases.
Protest punk, blogs and gay pride: dissent takes root as Singapore turns 40
Sun Aug 7, 1:48 AM ET
SINGAPORE, (AFP) - When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was sworn into office a year ago, he urged politically timid Singaporeans to shed their inhibitions and speak up on important issues.
As Singapore prepares for its 40th National Day celebrations on Tuesday, the son of independence leader Lee Kuan Yew will find that young Singaporeans are taking him up on his offer -- but not necessarily in the manner he expected.
Last Friday, in an arts center just off the smart Orchard Road shopping belt, dissident artists and punk rock musicians staged their own pre-National Day indoor concert to demand an end to executions in Singapore.
After police barred them from displaying the image of a man hanged in May on drug trafficking charges, some concert participants wore black T-shirts saying "Abolish Death Penalty" and "F__k Your Politics".
Earlier, gay and lesbian professionals, angered by a police ban on a yearly beach party coinciding with the official celebrations, launched IndigNation, a month-long series of forums to assert their place in society.
Independent websites and blogs have also mushroomed, questioning everything from Singaporeans' prudish sexual conventions to the government's decision to lift a ban on casinos.
And, in a high-tech version of people power, an Internet-based petition helped force officers of the National Kidney Foundation, a charity identified with the political establishment, to step down in July after its chief executive admitted earning over 350,000 US dollars a year.
For younger Singaporeans who did not experience the racial strife and poverty of the republic's early years before it became Southeast Asia's richest society, prosperity is no longer enough -- a point Lee himself acknowledged.
"We've been successful, wildly successful," Lee said in his first policy speech after taking over as prime minister in August last year, "but we can't stand still because the world is changing, our people are changing and so must Singapore and so must the way we govern Singapore."
"I can connect with the young people," said Lee, 53, a former brigadier general educated in Britain and the United States.
He vowed to "empower" young Singaporeans and encouraged them to "engage your ideals, your ideas, your energies, build a new generation, build tomorrow's Singapore" by getting involved in politics and other activities.
The contours of what has been termed "civil society" -- a non-partisan political space of free speech and alternative ideas -- appear to be taking shape in Singapore, powered by the Internet and driven by young, educated and dissatisfied citizens.
"I do not belong to any political party. What we want is a more compassionate society," said lawyer M. Ravi, 36, who had defended Shanmugam Murugesu, 38, a former soldier and champion athlete hanged on May 13 for trafficking about one kilo (2.2 pounds) of marijuana.
Ravi was speaking on the sidelines of last Friday's "Hung at Dawn" indoor concert at the Substation arts center, which began with an MC declaring the event was held to remember Murugesu and other people "who are victimized by this capitalist system."
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said last year that more than 400 people had been executed in Singapore between 1991 and 2003, which it described as a "shocking number" for a nation of just over four million people.
Ravi and other young Singaporeans are finding their voice outside the pro-government media and the traditional political party system dominated by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) since independence.
"The opposition parties need to also address or contend with civil society and not just be preoccupied with votes because the structures need to be taken down before you see change," Ravi said.
But despite their defiance, young dissidents remain wary of the apparent new openness in Singapore.
"There's always that fear of incarceration," said Seelan Palay, a 21-year-old guitarist who belongs to the band Ila Mitra, named after a late Bangladeshi peasant activist.
Speaking during a break in the concert, he said he was part of a "collective" of fringe artists and musicians who "choose not to conform to mainstream media and all its corporate control."
"The day that we can do things like this without the fear of being implicated is the day that Singapore truly becomes a more open and free society," he said.
While the government appears to be tolerating a greater degree of political expression and some groups keep testing the limits, the fundamentals remain firmly in place.
In an official National Day gathering last Friday, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, who oversees internal security, warned that the government will never compromise on "the rule of law" and civil disobedience is not an option.
"When anyone advocates the wilful breaking of the law, regardless of whether you think it is a silly law or not, he does violence to the rule of law even if his actions are peaceful," he said.
"No one is above the rule of law," he added.