Thio Li-ann

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Thio Li-ann
Thio Li-ann at a Human Rights Day seminar, Conrad Centennial Singapore - 20141204-01.jpg
Thio speaking at a Human Rights Day seminar organized by the European Union Delegation to Singapore in December 2014
Nominated Member of Parliament
In office
18 January 2007 – 17 July 2009
Appointed byS R Nathan
Personal details
Born (1968-03-10) 10 March 1968 (age 51)
  • Thio Su Mien (mother)
  • Josie Lau Meng Lee (cousin-in-law)
Alma mater
OccupationProfessor of law
Thio Li-ann
Simplified Chinese张黎衍

Thio Li-ann (born 10 March 1968) is a Singaporean law professor at the National University of Singapore. She was educated at the University of Oxford, Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge. In January 2007, she was appointed a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) in Singapore's 11th Parliament.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Thio Li-ann was born in Singapore on 10 March 1968.[2] Her mother is Dr. Thio (née Huang) Su Mien, former Dean of the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and presently Senior Executive Director of TSMP Law Corporation;[3] her brother, Thio Shen Yi, is Joint Managing Director of the same law firm.[4]

Thio was educated at the Singapore Chinese Girls' School (1975–1984) and Hwa Chong Junior College (1984–1986), at the latter on a Humanities Award from the Ministry of Education. She took a Bachelor of Arts (B.A. (Hons.)) in Jurisprudence at Keble College, Oxford[5] between 1987 and 1990.[2] At Oxford she was awarded the Law Moderations Book Prize (Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Roman Law) in 1988. She was called to the Bar as a barrister at Gray's Inn in 1991.[5]

Career as law academic[edit]

Thio joined the Faculty of Law of the NUS as a Senior Tutor in 1991, and was appointed Lecturer in 1992. That same year she embarked on postgraduate law studies at Harvard Law School on a National University of Singapore Overseas Graduate Scholarship, and obtained a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in 1993.[6] She returned to NUS, where in 1997 she was appointed an Assistant Professor. Between 1997 and 2000 she carried out Ph.D. research at the University of Cambridge on another NUS Overseas Graduate Scholarship, and was duly conferred this degree in 2000. Her Ph.D. dissertation, entitled Managing Babel: The International Legal Protection of Minorities in the Twentieth Century, was subsequently published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers in 2005. In June 2000 she was appointed an Associate Professor, and achieved the rank of full Professor in July 2006.[2][5] Her research interests are the following:

  • Constitutionalism and human rights in Asia.
  • Domestic and comparative perspectives of constitutional law and administrative law.
  • International human rights law and the rights of peoples.
  • Law and religion.
  • Public international law, its history and theory.[7]

Thio was Young Asian Scholar at the Melbourne University Law School in 1997,[8] was ranked as an NUS Excellent Teacher in 2001–2002 and 2002–2003, and was given a Young Researcher Award by NUS in 2004. In March 2006, she was a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, where she was one of the academics teaching a course on "National Protection of Human Rights". In September of that year she returned to the University of Melbourne as a Senior Fellow of its Graduate Law Programme to teach a course entitled "Constitutionalism in Asian Societies".[5]

Thio served[5][7] as Chief Editor of the Singapore Journal of International & Comparative Law[9] between 2000 and 2003, and since 2005 has been General Editor of the Asian Yearbook of International Law.[10] She is also on the editorial or advisory boards of the Singapore Yearbook of International Law,[11] the New Zealand Yearbook of International Law (since 2003),[12] the University of Bologna Law Review (since 2016),[13] and Human Rights & International Legal Discourse (since 2006),[14] and is Corresponding Editor (Singapore) for Blaustein & Flanz's Constitutions of the Countries of the World (since 2001)[15] and the International Journal of Constitutional Law (since 2001).[16] Since 2001 she has also been a contributor on constitutional and administrative law to the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review of Singapore Cases.[17]

Thio appeared as an expert witness before the Federal Court of Australia in the extradition of Michael McCrea to Singapore to stand trial for murder (2003), and as a consultant to a delegation of the House of Representatives of Japan (30 September 2002) and to the University of Warwick on academic freedom issues (2005).[5]

Term as Nominated Member of Parliament[edit]

From 18 January 2007, Thio was appointed a Nominated Member of Parliament of the 11th Session of the Parliament of Singapore for a two-and-a-half-year term.[5]

In October 2007, the Parliament of Singapore reviewed the Penal Code.[18] In the course of doing so, it decided not to repeal section 377A of the Code and thus continued to criminalise sexual activity between males. In the course of the debate in Parliament, Thio gave a speech to support the continued criminalisation of sexual activity between males, and likened gay sex to "shoving a straw up your nose to drink."[19] She claimed to have support from a majority of Singaporeans, and stated she spoke "at the risk of being burned at the stake by militant activists."[20] At the same time, Thio mentioned the existence of an active gay agenda that seeks to lobby the government and radically change sexual norms.[19]

The Internet subsequently saw a flood of websites heavily rebutting Thio's speech, most of which focused on her lurid straw-up-the-nose analogy.[21] Local journalist Janadas Devan, in a feature article in The Straits Times on 27 October, titled "377A debate and the rewriting of pluralism", the pointed out that the speech was heavily laced with phrases and imagery from the Dominionist movement.[22] Another Straits Times writer, Chua Mui Hoong, also wrote an article titled "Rules of Engagement for God and Politics" on 16 November 2007. In it, Chua acknowledged Thio's position in her speech that secularism could challenge religion. However, Chua disagreed that religion has been antagonised in Singapore, and encouraged that specific explanation be given as to how the repeal of a law would in reality harm the Singaporean society.[23]

Thio's speech also drew the criticism of Michael Kirby, then a judge of the High Court of Australia, who referenced it in a speech he delivered in Brisbane on 16 November 2007. The content of his speech was subsequently published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 19 November 2007.[24]

During the debate, Thio revealed that playwright Alfian Sa'at had sent her a short email saying, among other things, that "I hope I outlive you long enough to see the repeal of 377A and on that day I will piss on your grave."[25] Sa'at later took responsibility for the email, saying it was sent in a moment of folly in response to the rumour that Thio had called the police to complain about a "Pink Picnic" some members of the gay community were organising in the Botanic Gardens. Thio later denied the allegation, and Sa'at apologised. Subsequently, in November 2007, Thio was alerted by the media to an anonymous threatening letter addressed to her stating: "We know where you work, we'll send people there to hunt you down". Thio made a police report the same day.[26]

Question regarding support from the majority[edit]

Thio's strong position towards retaining the code drew much protest from some Singaporeans. Two issues were constantly raised. The first issue was the question of the real existence of a majority against repeal of the code. The second issue was the question of whether a stance against homosexual behavior would equate to wanting a code to criminalize the act of sodomy.[27] Concerns were also raised by a law professor on whether it was realistically possible to enforce such a code, whether it would lead to dangers of entrapment, and whether the informal position of the government not to enforce the code would reverse overnight.[28]

At the same time, an alleged email also surfaced during the course of discussion, in which Senior Pastor Derek Hong of Church of Our Saviour, Singapore, supposedly encouraged acquaintances to lobby the government to decide against repealing the code.[29] The email contains a suggested format of writing, which could be found repeated heavily in actual letters to The Straits Times and, the Singaporean government online feedback website. The content of the alleged email is strongly similar to an earlier one sent in 2003 by Cornerstone Community Church. Neither Hong nor his church has issued any statement on this matter.

NYU Law School controversy[edit]

Thio was to be a visiting human rights professor at New York University School of Law in the fall of 2009 until she withdrew her acceptance in July 2009.[30][31] Many noted the irony in her appointment, and prompted calls for condemnation of her "anti-gay hate speech" before Parliament.[19] The University's gay and lesbian law student group, NYU OUTLaw, released a statement calling for the condemnation.[32][33][34]

NYU Law School's Dean Richard Revesz issued a memorandum stating "the Law School categorically rejects the point of view expressed in Professor Thio's speech, as evidenced by our early and longstanding commitment to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."[35] Students at NYU Law School have issued statements as well.

Thio then sent an 18-point defense memo to the entire NYU Law faculty.[33] On 22 July 2009, she informed the school of her withdrawal from the appointment, citing hostility by its community towards her views and low enrollment.[31][34] It was reported that only 9 students applied for her course on Human Rights and 5 for her another course on Constitutionalism.[36]

Personal life[edit]

Daughter of Thio Su Mien[edit]

Thio's father is Thio Gim Hock and her brother is senior counsel Thio Shen Yi. Her maternal grandfather is Reverend Huang Yang Ying, first principal of Anglican High School.[37] Her mother is Dr. (Mrs.) Thio Su Mien, who was formerly the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore, and is now in private practice. Dr. Thio Su Mien came to the attention of the Singaporean public in 2003 when she sent a letter to The Straits Times stating her strong disagreement with homosexuality.[38] The letter, signed by eight persons, was in response to a speech by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in which he mentioned that the Civil Service would not discriminate against employing homosexual individuals. On 9 February 2006, Dr Thio Su Mien also wrote another letter to The Straits Times which, amongst other things, stated her belief that the American Psychiatric Association had ceased to regard homosexuality as a mental disorder due to "pressure tactics from homosexual activists — including riots and disruptions of APA meetings".[39]

AWARE Takeover by Thio Su Mien[edit]

In 2009, a group of conservative Christian women from the Church of Our Savior, under the leadership of Josie Lau and orchestrated by Dr Thio Su Mien, took over the executive council of the group alleging AWARE, a non-governmental organization in Singapore concerned with promoting gender equality. 6 of the 11 newly elected executive committee were church members who had only joined the group 3 months prior to the election, and 80 of the 120 attendees of the meeting were similarly new members from the church.[40] The old guard called for a no-confidence vote and the new council was voted out of office on 2 May 2009.[41] Of the 2,175 people who voted at the meeting, 1,414 voted for the no-confidence.[42] Deputy Prime minister Wong Kan Seng commented that "a group of conservative Christians, all attending the same church, which held strong views on homosexuality, had moved in and taken over AWARE because they disapproved of what AWARE had been doing", and called for tolerance, cautioning that religion and politics must be kept separate.[43]

On May 26, 2009, during Thio Li Ann's first speech in parliament since the event, Thio Li-Ann accused the local press of biased reporting on the events surrounding the attempted takeover. Han Fook Kwang, then editor of the Straits Times, responded in an editorial and expressed his sadness at the vindictiveness of "critics and the length to which they are prepared to go to attack our professionalism" and integrity, detailing the sequence of events and how their journalists had investigated and reported on the proceedings.[44]

Religious affiliation[edit]

Thio is a Christian. In an interview with the local daily The Straits Times on 2 November 2007, Thio shared her personal story of how she converted from a "very, very arrogant" atheist to a Christian in 1987.[19] Having entered Oxford University to read jurisprudence, she attended a Christian Union talk then and claimed to be "stopped" by a voice.

"I basically had a sense that God was talking to me. I had stood up to walk out and I heard someone say, 'Stop'. And no one was around me. Everybody was busy doing their own thing. I was one of only one or two Chinese girls in this whole room of ang mohs. And then I just had the sense that I had encountered God, that he knew my name and I was shocked." Thio was quoted as saying in the interview.[45]

She added, "'I don't know what right wing is. This is funny because I was always considered a political leftie and now I'm a rightie."

Selected works[edit]

Representative articles[edit]

  • Thio, Li-ann (1997), "An 'i' for an 'I': Singapore's Communitarian Model of Constitutional Adjudication", Hong Kong Law Journal, 27: 152–186, ISSN 0378-0600.
  • Thio, Li-ann (1999), "Implementing Human Rights in ASEAN Countries: Promises to Keep and Miles to Go before I Sleep", Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal, 2: 1–86, ISSN 1548-2596.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2002), "Battling Balkanization: Regional Approaches towards Minority Protection beyond Europe", Harvard International Law Journal, 43 (2): 409–468, ISSN 0017-8063.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2002), "Recent Constitutional Developments: Of Shadows and Whips, Race, Rifts and Rights, Terror and Tudungs, Women and Wrongs", Singapore Journal of Legal Studies: 328–373, ISSN 0218-2173.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2004), "Pragmatism and Realism Do Not Mean Abdication: A Critical Inquiry into Singapore's Engagement with International Human Rights Law", Singapore Year Book of International Law, 8: 41–91, ISSN 1793-0448.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2006), "'Beyond the Four Walls' in an Age of Transnational Judicial Conversations: Civil Liberties, Rights Theories and Constitutional Adjudication in Malaysia and Singapore", Columbia Journal of Asian Law, 19 (2): 428–518, ISSN 1094-8449.

Contributions towards books[edit]

  • Thio, Li-ann (1997), "The Elected President and the Legal Control of Government: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?", in Tan, Kevin; Lam, Peng Er (eds.), Managing Political Change in Singapore: The Elected Presidency, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, p. 100, ISBN 0-415-15632-7.
  • Thio, Li-ann (1997), "Choosing Representatives: Singapore Does It Her Way", in Hassall, Graham; Saunders, Cheryl (eds.), The People's Representatives: Electoral Systems in the Asia-Pacific Region, St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, pp. 38–58, ISBN 1-86448-258-3.
  • Thio, Li-ann (1999), "The Constitutional Framework of Powers", in Tan, Kevin Y.L. (Yew Lee) (ed.), The Singapore Legal System (2nd ed.), Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 67, ISBN 9971-69-213-9.
  • Thio, Li-ann (1999), "Law and the Administrative State", in Tan, Kevin Y.L. (Yew Lee) (ed.), The Singapore Legal System (2nd ed.), Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 160, ISBN 9971-69-213-9.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2004), "Rule of Law within a Non-liberal "Communitarian" Democracy : The Singapore Experience", in Peerenboom, Randall (ed.), Asian Discourses of Rule of Law: Theories and Implementation of Rule of Law in Twelve Asian Countries, France and the U.S., London; New York, N.Y.: RoutledgeCurzon, pp. 183–224, ISBN 0-415-32612-5.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2005), "Taking Rights Seriously?: Human Rights Law in Singapore", in Peerenboom, R. (Randall) P.; Petersen, Carole; Chen, Albert H.Y. (eds.), Human Rights in Asia: A Comparative Legal Study of Twelve Asian Countries, France and the United States, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, p. 158, ISBN 0-415-36003-X.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2006), "International Law and Secession in the Asia-Pacific Region", in Kohen, Marcelo G. (ed.), Secession: International Law Perspectives, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 297–354, ISBN 0-521-84928-4.


  • Tan, Kevin Y[ew] L[ee]; Thio, Li-ann (2010), Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore (3rd ed.), Singapore: LexisNexis, ISBN 978-981-236-795-2.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2005), Managing Babel: The International Legal Protection of Minorities in the Twentieth Century [International Studies in Human Rights; v. 81], Leiden; Boston, Mass.: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-14198-8.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2009), Mind the Gap: Contending for Righteousness in an Age of Lawlessness, Singapore: Genesis Books, ISBN 978-981-4222-59-4.
  • Thio, Li-ann; Tan, Kevin Y[ew] L[ee], eds. (2009), Evolution of a Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution, London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge-Cavendish, ISBN 978-0-415-43862-9.
  • Thio, Li-ann (2013), Prophecy, Pansexuality and Pandemonium: The Political Arm of the Spirit of Lawlessness in the Acharit-hayamim, Singapore: Genesis Books, ISBN 978-981-446165-8.


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  2. ^ a b c Prof THIO LI-ANN: Curriculum vitae, Parliament of Singapore, 25 January 2007, archived from the original on 27 July 2009, retrieved 8 November 2007.
  3. ^ Dr Thio Su Mien, TSMP Law Corporation, 2007, archived from the original on 29 December 2007, retrieved 14 November 2007.
  4. ^ Thio Shen Yi, TSMP Law Corporation, 2007, archived from the original on 29 December 2007, retrieved 14 November 2007.
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  6. ^ Her LL.M. thesis was entitled Constitutional Interpretation: Lost Lessons from the Fundamental Principles of the U.S. Constitution (1993).
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  8. ^ Thio's curriculum vitae states that this took place in 1998: Curriculum vitae: Professor (Dr.) THIO Li-ann (PDF), Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, 5 February 2007, archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2007, retrieved 18 November 2007.
  9. ^ "Singapore yearbook of international law [Serials]", Singapore Journal of International & Comparative Law, Singapore: Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, 1997–2003, ISSN 0219-0508, archived from the original on 31 October 2017, retrieved 6 July 2017. After 2003 the journal was renamed the Singapore Year Book of International Law (SYBIL).
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  13. ^ "Advisory Board". Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
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  17. ^ Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review of Singapore Cases, Singapore: Singapore Academy of Law, 2001, ISSN 0219-6638, retrieved 6 July 2017.
  18. ^ Penal Code (Cap. 224, 1985 Rev. Ed.).
  19. ^ a b c d Winnie Hu (22 July 2009), "Citing opposition, professor calls off N.Y.U. appointment", The New York Times, archived from the original on 10 September 2017, retrieved 24 July 2009.
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  21. ^ Hu, Winnie. "Opposition Causes Thio Li-ann to Skip N.Y.U. Appointment". Archived from the original on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  22. ^ Janadas Devan (27 October 2007), "377A debate and the rewriting of pluralism", The Straits Times.
  23. ^ Chua Mui Hong (16 November 2007), "Rules of engagement for God and politics", The Straits Times.
  24. ^ Michael Kirby (19 November 2007), "Selective tolerance is not tolerance at all", The Sydney Morning Herald, archived from the original on 20 November 2007, retrieved 26 November 2007.
  25. ^ "Alfian Sa'at Vs Thio Li-Ann". Pseudonymity. Archived from the original on 22 December 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  26. ^ Li Xueying (8 November 2007), "NMP Thio files 2nd police report after getting threat", The Straits Times.
  27. ^ Resources, Trevvy SGBOY Gay Singapore Malaysia Hong Kong Thailand Australia News Lifestyle Personals Events Forums. "Trevvy - Forums - Crying OUT Loud Singapore!". Archived from the original on 21 November 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  28. ^ K.C. Vijayan (30 October 2007), "NUS don warns of 377A fallout", The Straits Times.
  29. ^ "Elim Sanctuary - Gays & Christianity - Email from Derek Hong". Archived from the original on 28 October 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  30. ^ Richard L. Revesz (22 July 2009), "Statement from Dean Richard L. Revesz of the New York University School of Law", The New York Times, archived from the original on 10 September 2017, retrieved 24 July 2009.
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  33. ^ a b Tay Shi'an (22 July 2009), "She's not against gay people, just against gay agenda", The New Paper, archived from the original on 24 July 2009, retrieved 24 July 2009.
  34. ^ a b Cai Haoxiang (24 July 2009), "Thio Li-ann cancels teaching stint at NYU", The Straits Times, p. A15.
  35. ^ David Lat (10 July 2009), Dr. Li-ann Thio: The good professor speaks – and so does NYU Law School, Above the Law, archived from the original on 12 July 2009, retrieved 13 July 2009.
  36. ^ Lat, David. "Dr. Li-ann Thio: Much Ado About Nothing?". Above the Law. Archived from the original on 18 July 2009. Retrieved 25 July 2009.
  37. ^ "Dr. Thio Su Mien with her young children, 1971". BooksSG. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  38. ^ Thio Su Mien (22 July 2003), "No to homosexuality", Streats.
  39. ^ M. Nirmala (23 July 2003), "Gay backlash", The Straits Times.
  40. ^ Kalinga Seneviratne (30 April 2009), SINGAPORE: Evangelical Christians Take on Civil Society, archived from the original on 20 January 2015, retrieved 19 January 2015
  41. ^ "Taken unawares; Singapore's NGO furore," in: The Economist, 9 May 2009
  42. ^ Yong, Debbie. 2009. "Getting to know Aware's new exco; Members talk about EGM, its sex education programme and plans for future over dinner," in: The Straits Times, 10 May.
  43. ^ Comments by DPM and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng in response to media queries related to AWARE Archived 17 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ Han Fook Kwang (30 May 2009), "How ST covered the story", The Straits Times.
  45. ^ Li Xueying (2 November 2007), "A fiery NMP gets her baptism of fire", The Straits Times.


External links[edit]