Out in the World: Singapore transgender activist leads SF demonstration raising awareness of alleged Christian far-right's attacks

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday September 1, 2023
Share this Post:
More than 20 protesters marched down Market Street from the Embarcadero in San Francisco August 27 to demonstrate in front of Singapore's general consulate against the Christian far-right's infiltration into the Southeast Asian country's government and attacks on transgender activists. Photo: Courtesy Bay for SG Queers<br>
More than 20 protesters marched down Market Street from the Embarcadero in San Francisco August 27 to demonstrate in front of Singapore's general consulate against the Christian far-right's infiltration into the Southeast Asian country's government and attacks on transgender activists. Photo: Courtesy Bay for SG Queers

Singaporean transgender activists claim they are fighting for their lives against the Southeast Asian country's Christian far-right movement. Many in the small resistance group have fled Singapore for their safety and to raise awareness about their plight.

On August 27, more than 20 American activists joined Yar Cohen in an hourlong demonstration in San Francisco, marching from the Embarcadero to the Consulate General of the Republic of Singapore at Market and Second streets. The action was in solidarity with queer and trans Signaporeans, one of whom, Joyce Ng, spoke.

The protest was organized by a grassroots group called Bay for SG Queers.

San Francisco was the latest demonstration. Similar protests have spread from Singapore to the United Kingdom (reported by Pink News and to New York City since the first demonstration was held on June 18, 2022, by Brown Dot, a group within Singapore's LGBTQ Pride celebration known as Pink Dot.

The activists claim Singapore's Christian far-right churches and organizations and government leaders, such as Singapore Attorney General Lucien Wong, are backed by American Christian right-wing organizations and have been infiltrating Singapore's government. The activists assert the Christian movement is working to enact anti-LGBTQ laws, and are targeting grassroots queer and transgender activists who are resisting.

One of those transgender activists targeted is Vickreman Harvey Chettiar, a 32-year-old autistic Tamil transgender woman born and raised in Singapore. On April 30, she allegedly wrote two posts inciting an act of death against Singaporean President Halimah Yacob.

One of the posts read, Madame Halimah Yacob "deserves to be dragged from the presidential palace by Singaporean patriots, brought to near the Parliament House, strung up from lamp-post 4F, and hanged by the neck until all life has completely departed her body." Vickreman claims she did not willingly create the post.

After two attorneys removed themselves from the case, Vickreman currently is not being legally represented, activists said.

The posts on Instagram Stories have since been deleted, but the Bay Area Reporter obtained screenshots of the posts on X (formerly Twitter).

Vickreman, who uses she/her pronouns, has been misgendered in Asian media reports.

Vickreman, who has been in Singaporean authorities' crosshairs for the past decade, faces four charges: one count of mischief and three counts of harassment. If convicted, she will be sent to a men's prison.

Vickreman will be back in court for her next pre-trial conference September 7 when it is anticipated her trial dates will be set.

Ng believes the Christian far-right wants to "demonize" Vickreman to justify their message "that 'transpeople are dangerous.'"

The activists believe if she is sent to jail, "it will result in her death," lesbian activist Carissa Cheow wrote to the B.A.R. September 1.

"If she dies, we die too," she added.

Activists called for the charges to be dropped and for the attacks against Vickreman to stop. They also called for Singapore's government to investigate the Christian far-right for alleged crimes they claim have occurred.

The activists hope to build enough pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and so that it will act in favor of their calls for action.

"Singapore relies on respectability politics in order to survive," Ng explained, noting that it is very important to the Singapore government to have a positive reputation in the eyes of the U.S.

"People are watching," they said. "There's no way to cover up any of this."

Cheow isn't quite as optimistic. Speaking with the B.A.R. in a video interview from Singapore August 30, she believes the Christian right is watching and waiting to see if the international community is paying attention not only to Vickreman's case but to their political grab of the government.

The Christian far-right "wish to use Singapore as a base to spread their ideology to the rest of Asia," Ng added, stating the transgender activists' fights are the same as in other countries. "We may come from different countries, but our fights are not disjoint or unrelated."

The activist's broader message is to stop the Christian far-right's global takeover of governments around the world and assaulting nonbinary gender people's rights while aligning themselves with LGBTQ movements, like in Ghana, Uganda, and other countries.

The B.A.R. has been reporting on the anti-LGBTQ movements in Ghana, Uganda, among other countries around the world where religious conservatives have influenced countries' governments.

At the June protest in London, transgender Singaporean activist J-min Wong (no relation to Lucien Wong) told Pink News, "Today, we are here because we're against the Christian far right in Singapore, the political presence, and the fact that they've tried to take over politics in Singapore and the world, and they have networks across the world and they're trying to push back trans rights."

"The U.S. Christian far right is pretty successful actually [in] exerting influence on other countries," added Ng, stating that if people are more aware of the conservative Christians operating in their own communities, "they can identify the threats."

One action the Christian far-right in Singapore took last year was the National Council of Churches of Singapore pushed the country's government to guarantee freedom of speech for churches to speak out against LGBTQ people.

Conversion therapy is still alive and well within the Southeast Asian city-state, according to activists. The B.A.R. previously reported that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent LGBTQ expert at the United Nations, called for a global ban on so-called conversion therapy before the body's 14-member Human Rights Council in 2020. In a report, he noted some countries and major institutions around the world have banned the practice.

Activists are concerned if they do not raise enough awareness to pressure Singapore's government to hear them and act, the only option for some Singaporeans will be to leave or die.

"I have to make sure that this situation goes in our favor and that we don't lose to the Christian far-right," Cheow said.

"We are not doing this for activism. We're doing this because this is life and death," she continued. "If Harvey goes down, I literally have no chance for survival in Singapore."

Singaporean transgender activist Joyce Ng came to San Francisco to raise awareness of fellow transgender activist Vickreman Harvey Chettiar, who allegedly has been targeted by the Christian far-right in Singapore. Photo: Heather Cassell  

The B.A.R. sat down with Ng, a 25-year-old pansexual nonbinary/transgender woman after the protest. Ng fled Singapore through Malaysia last month. They are working with Bay for SG Queers to spread awareness. The activists have published several websites: Safety for Singapore, Justice for Singapore, and Justice for Harvey, which explain Singaporean transgender and nonbinary activists' struggles against the Christian far-right in their country.

Singapore repealed its British colonial-era anti-sodomy law, Section 377A, in 2022. There are no laws criminalizing transgender people.

Vickreman's alleged run-ins
Vickreman has had run-ins with Singapore's justice system for nearly a decade. The transgender activist was allegedly set up for a bomb hoax in 2013 and 2014 that landed her in the men's division of the Institute of Mental Health.

During her detention at the mental health institution in 2014, Vickreman was allegedly raped. She filed a complaint, but nearly a year and a half later the police closed her complaint in 2016. Her rapist went free. She sued in 2016 the National Healthcare Group, which owns the Institute of Mental Health, for her rape and the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers because of it, but the case was dismissed in 2021 because she didn't have a lawyer to represent her. At the same time, she broke a marble table at the supreme court during a PTSD episode while waiting for a pre-trial conference for her rape case in 2015. Singapore's Attorney General Lucien Wong filed a case against her for the incident despite her apology and paying $228 (S$308) for the table.

"The person who raped Harvey in the mental institution in 2014 is now an immigration border patrol officer," Ng said. "[Harvey]'s faced so much injustice."

The purported death threat on social media to the president wasn't the only time Vickreman allegedly threatened authorities and her rapist on social media. The Straits Times reported in November 2021 she allegedly threatened a police investigation officer and three days later she posted that she hoped terrorists would attack a police divisional headquarters. She also allegedly accused another man of sexual offenses and called for him to be assaulted.

A tangled tale
Ng described to the B.A.R. a complex web of betrayals, conspiracies, black operations (Christian far-right "Operation High Tide" and Muslim far-right "Operation Fitrah"), lies, threats, and bounties being placed on the activists all masterminded by the Christian far-right and their former friend, trans person Mercury Jamie Alice. The situation led to fellow nonbinary activist Wong's harrowing escape from Singapore in May. Wong was chased by unmarked cars fleeing to the United Kingdom through Malaysia, which shares a border with Singapore. Ng said before each of them left Singapore, they learned a bounty was placed in U.S. dollars on them on the black market. Kidnapping Wong criminals would receive $50,000. Kill Ng, criminals would earn $30,000.

Wong successfully made it to the U.K. joining their friend and fellow transgender activist Lune Loh, who is currently working toward a master's degree in the country, Ng said. The B.A.R. obtained an audio recording of the drivers describing the incident transporting Wong to Kuala Lumpur International Airport in May.

Ng landed in San Francisco August 13 after they fled Singapore, crossing over the Malaysian-Singaporean border by bus.

Singapore's government was aware of Sunday's protest but could not stop it from happening, they said. Ng said they were informed through their network that they now could face charges under Singapore's Protection for Harassment Act and the Administration of Justice Protection Act for participating in Sunday's protest.

Ng isn't sure if they will claim asylum in the United States, they told the B.A.R. Loh and Wong are seeking asylum in the U.K. or else they will be arrested and institutionalized if they return to Singapore, reported Pink News.

One thing is certain, Ng said they feel relatively safe in San Francisco because they have friends here. People will notice if they are missing.

Ng didn't want to disclose sources of funding for their activism. Others said they are operating from savings, donations, and support from other activists.

American influence
The B.A.R. found many of the organizations the activists identified in Singapore also have religious institutions of the same name are based in California and Texas. After multiple searches online, searching the churches' websites lists of affiliated or chapter organizations listed, and the registration numbers the activists provided the B.A.R. initially could not locate the Singapore churches online. The B.A.R. also could not confirm the Singapore churches affiliation with the American institutions that have the same name at this time. The B.A.R. conducted another search September 8 and the Singapore churches: Cornerstone Community Church, Church of Our Savior, and 3:16 Church appeared in the search results this time. The B.A.R. still could not locate a website or information about the alleged Singapore-based Liberty League. The organizations are allegedly headed up by U.S.-based conservative think tanks the activists identified New Jersey-based The Witherspoon Institute with the CanaVox and Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family's Singapore affiliate, which have pumped more than $200,000 in U.S. money into Singapore within the past decade. The activists also claim the Christian far-right organizations have attempted to usurp the feminist organization Association of Women for Action and Research Singapore (AWARE) and undermine LGBTQ organizations, according to documents the activists provided.

The B.A.R. reached out to the American and Singaporean Christian far-right groups identified by the Singaporean transgender and nonbinary activists but did not receive responses by press time. The Singapore consulate in San Francisco responded in an email September 1 that Consul-General William Chik Kam Weng and Vice-Consul Tim Ye Ling were unavailable for comment by press time.

AWARE Singapore is the country's leading women's rights and gender equity organization, according to its website. AWARE Singapore did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment.

Cohen said that there is a new policy instituted by the Monetary Authority in Singaproe that restricts joint bank accounts to blood relatives.

Singapore activists attempted to open an account for Vickreman to collect funds for her legal fees but were denied, Ng said.

Cheow, 28, who was born and raised in Singapore, documented more than 13 months of systematic targeting conducted by Mercury Jamie Alice against Singapore's transgender activists in a primer she shared with the B.A.R.

Mercury Jamie Alice, 22, now works for Singapore's Christian far-right movement. According to her LinkedIn profile and the activists, she is the marketing executive at BitCyber.

The B.A.R. reached out to Mercury Jamie Alice but did not receive a comment by press time.

Cheow earned a master's in public policy last year, and she has studied Singapore's far-right Christian movement and followed the American religious conservative movement's path into Asia for a decade.

Cheow told the B.A.R. the American Christian far-right has been in Singapore since the 1970s and 1980s, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that the movement began to establish itself into Singapore's mainstream society and infiltrate the country's government. Only within the last decade did the movement begin to successfully place leaders in Singapore's government.

"The Christian far-right has definitely become a lot more powerful in Singapore since the 2000s," said Cheow, who decided to remain in Singapore.

Today Online reported May 25 that Mercury Jamie Alice learned she faced serious charges for falsifying a terrorist attack at a Singapore mall August 9, 2021. At the time of her arrest, Singaporean police discovered 72 obscene videos and 60 obscene images between April 2020 and August 2021 on her iPhone. She is also facing a charge of possessing obscene videos and images. She may face more charges under the Computer Misuse Act. The case was adjourned to June 22, but the B.A.R. could not find more media coverage.

Mercury Jamie Alice is currently out of police custody on $3,700 (S$5,000) bail, reported Today Online.

The Christian far-right has "compiled their own set of evidence against Mercury already," Ng said. "They eventually will dispose of Mercury anyway."

Activists call upon people to speak out on behalf of Singaporean queer and transgender activists with a letter-writing campaign to Singapore Consulates in their area to draw attention to the issue.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Updated, 9/2/23: This article has been updated with a correction of pronoun preference for Vickreman Harvey Chettiar (she/her), a correction that Vickreman would be sent to a men's prison if convicted for the crimes of which she is accused, a correction to reflect an earlier protest took place in June, and a response from the Singapore Consulate in San Francisco.

Updated, 9/6/23:This article has been updated to make the following corrections: that local activists led the San Francisco protests; that similar protests have been held elsewhere; clarifying that Singaporeans may have to leave the country; removing a sentence incorrectly stating activists planned to disrupt a court hearing; that the country's banking policy limits joint bank accounts to blood relatives; removing a reference to BitCyber CEO; and correcting the year of an alleged terrorits attack to 2021.

Updated, 9/8/23: Two quotes by Carissa Cheow has been corrected to state Christian far-right and information on churches mentioned has been updated.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.