Singapore, the small island nation situated somewhere in Asia, is an ideal tourist attraction for a whole lot of reasons. People who have ever visited the country and continue to visit it purr about its serene environment, outstanding unique cuisines and arts festivals of various genres. You can easily write a poem about its beaches such as the Lazarus Islands, attractions such as the Universal Studios, Skypark Sentosa, Singapore Wave Park, Singapore Sports Hub and its special public transportation system and markets as well. However, living in or visiting Singapore can be an interesting experience for a different reason: its laws. Some of these laws, as will be illustrated later in this publication, border on the weird and the absurd as they criminalize a number of seemingly mundane human activities generally that could be considered ‘normal’ in other jurisdictions. This article ranks some of such laws in no particular order below:
1. Chewing and selling gum
Quite the most powerful of the strange illegal things in Singapore, this act attracts a $100,000 fine or a maximum two-year prison term. Under Singaporean law, one is forbidden from selling and consuming chewing gum. According to the Regulation of Imports and Exports Act (Chapter 272A, Section 3): an individual flouting the prohibition on consumption and distribution of chewing gum also stands to be liable to a $200,000 fine or incarceration for a maximum term of three years on second conviction. Interestingly, however, the law permits the importation of any chewing gum that is ‘registered or deemed to be registered as a therapeutic product under the Health Products Act. The law also stipulates certain provisions to be adhered to in the event of the permissible importation of chewing gum into Singapore. These provisions summarily instruct the concealment of consignments of chewing gum brought into the country.
Singapore is literally a vast smoking-free zone. Lighting up a cigarette is prohibited in many places and locations in Singapore. Under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, you are not allowed to blow a fuse in places like building areas, food retail establishments, public service vehicles, sports and recreational facilities, transport nodes, hospital compounds, bus stops, school facilities, public parks, gardens etc. Smoking can be performed only within designated places, alternatively described as ‘smoking facility, at office premises, food retail establishments, university compounds, beaches, private residences and cars, town centres. The law equally frowns at underage smoking: smokers must meet a minimum age requirement of 21 to be eligible to light up a cigarette under Singaporean law. Individuals who default on the age requirement are liable to fines of up to $300. General defaulters are liable to a $200 fine if caught in a prohibited area or up to a $1000 fine if convicted.
3. Making noise after 10:30 pm
The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines noise as a loud, unpleasant or disturbing sound. According to Singapore’s Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act 1906, making such a sound in a manner that can cause annoyance or inconvenience to members of the public attracts a fine not exceeding $1,000 on conviction. The regulations of various Singaporean Town Councils further stipulate that activities capable of causing the public nuisance cannot be performed beyond 10:30 pm and before 7 am. These activities include stage erection, playing of loud music or songs, etc.
4. Connecting to someone’s Wi-Fi
This offence is something Garyl Tan Jia Luo will be more than familiar with. In 2006, he was convicted for using his neighbour’s Wi-Fi without permission. While Tari’s sentence was commuted to 18 months probation, his story offers a timely, perfect warning about the danger of connecting to someone’s Wi-Fi without permission in Singapore. Under Singapore’s Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, using someone’s wireless connection without authorization attracts a penalty of $10,000 fine and incarceration for a maximum term of three years.
As a rule, you do not spit in a public place in Singapore unless you have a few bucks to spend on a fine. Under Singaporean law, flouting this rule attracts a penalty of up to $1,000 fine for the first time of offending. Subsequent offences attract $2,000 (for a second time of offending) and $5,000 for third and further offences. This law also includes disposal of any kind of human waste in public, from throwing mucus onto the street and urinating in drains.
6. Distributing obscene materials
Obscene materials, according to the Undesirable Publications Act 1967, are materials whose ‘effect or … the effect of any one of its parts or items is, if taken as a whole, such as tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it’. Defaulters are liable to a fine of not more than $10,000 and or a maximum prison term of two years. A typical example of obscene material in Singapore includes sex toys and pornographic materials (magazines, videos etc.).
7. Not flushing a public toilet
Forgetting to flush a public toilet after use is considered a criminal offence in Singapore. Caught offenders face the prospect of being slammed with a fine of $1000 under the provisions of Section 16 of the Public Cleansing Act.
8. Using fireworks and firecrackers
Under the 1972 Dangerous Fireworks Act, using fireworks and firecrackers for celebrations is illegal. The prohibition extends to the possession, sale, transport, delivery, distribution or import of fireworks and firecrackers as well. Defaulters of this law are liable to incarceration for a prison term ranging from 6 months to 2 years and punishment with caning of up to six strokes (in the case of repeat offenders). First-time offenders are also liable to fines between $2,000 and $10,000.
9. Feeding Birds
Feeding birds in Singapore is one of the many ways to spend $5000 with no smiles attached. Birds are not fed in Singapore. Rather, they are set free and allowed to fend for themselves. This also extends to wild animals. According to the Wildlife Act of 1965, Section 5A: “a person must not intentionally feed wildlife in any place unless the person has the Director-General’s written approval to do so”. Under the provisions of the act, wildlife includes ‘species of animals of a wild nature’ apart from dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, domestic pigs and poultry.
10. Walking naked (at home)
Walking around unclad in your house constitutes a form of pornography (which is illegal, by the way) and a public nuisance in Singapore. Defaulters face a fine of up to $2,000 and a prison term of up to three months, according to the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act of 1906.
11. Buying alcohol after 10:30 pm
Under Singapore’s Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act 2015, buying and consuming alcohol in a public place after 10:30 pm and before 7:00 am is considered illegal. Contravening this provision ensures liability to facing a fine of up to $10000 or higher. Drinking beyond specified time is only permissible consequent upon the possession of a special license, which must be applied for.
12. Using shisha and e-cigarettes
In Singapore, shisha belongs to an exclusive list of items whose usage is prohibited. Under this law in force since 2016, Importing, distributing and selling shisha within the country is outlawed. E-cigarettes are also considered to be prohibited substances. Using them, even in private residences, has been deemed illegal since 2018.
13. Cats in HDB homes
Residents of homes leased by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) are disallowed from keeping cats as pets. According to the agency, cats are “difficult to contain within the flat” and tend to litter public spaces. Owning a cat, therefore, attracts a warning and a fine of up to $4,000 thereafter in the event of non-compliance. Housing and Development Board (HDB) regulations also proscribe keeping chickens as pets.
Generally, pet owners can be fined for and convicted of the offence of animal cruelty if they are found to have caused or allowed avoidable physical or psychological pain to their pet. First-time offenders may walk away with a fine of up to $15,000 and or a prison term of a maximum of 18 months. Repeat offenders face the prospect of a fine of up to $30,000 and incarceration for a maximum prison term of three years.
14. Explicit songs
Singing explicit songs, which contain the f-words and swear words in public, is not a fashionable act in Singapore. According to the Singaporean Penal Code 294: singing, reciting or uttering obscene songs in public attracts a maximum prison term of three months.