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The Straits Times, Singapore, 1 April 1994
Fay loses appeal
His acts were relentless and wilful, says CJ
By Elena Chong
THE High Court yesterday dismissed American student Michael Peter Fay's appeal against sentence of four months' jail and six strokes of the cane for vandalising two cars.
Chief Justice Yong Pung How, who noted that Fay had also vandalised 16 other cars, told a packed court that those acts of vandalism were committed "relentlessly and wilfully" over 10 days last September and amounted to a "calculated course of criminal conduct".
Fay, 18, sporting a new haircut and dressed in a white long-sleeve shirt and black trousers, put his palms together and bowed his head as if in prayer before the CJ gave his judgment.
The teenager pleaded guilty early last month to vandalism by spray-painting two cars at Chatsworth Road and Cairnhill Place multi-storey carpark on Sept 17 and 18 with two or three others.
He was also fined a total of $3,500 by District Judge F.G. Remedios on two counts of mischief and one charge of keeping 16 stolen items.
Sixteen other vandalism and four mischief charges were taken into consideration.
In arguing the appeal, Queen's Counsel Michael David Sherrard said that Fay was not responsible for the "welter of publicity and attention" surrounding the case and had been desperately unhappy about the whole matter.
He said the trial judge had misconstrued the proviso to Section 3 of the Vandalism Act and held wrongly that paint was an indelible substance.
He said that the spray-paint on the two cars concerned was easily removed with thinner and turpentine.
He said Mr Remedios had concluded wrongly that a pre-sentence report was not called for because imprisonment was required as a matter of public policy.
He also thought wrongly that he had no alternative but to order caning.
Mr Sherrard then argued that the judge was wrong in not calling for a pre-sentence report and in rejecting the defence psychiatric reports.
Fay, he said, deserved a second chance. He submitted that this was a suitable and proper case for probation despite the seriousness of the offences.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jennifer Marie said that Parliament considered acts of vandalism, even when committed by a first offender through the use of paint, as deserving the sentence of caning.
She said there was no requirement in law that a pre-sentence report was to be called in every case where a young offender was involved.
She said that harsh punishment had to be meted out for vandalism because of the difficulty in removing "paint, tar or other indelible substances".
In his oral judgment, Chief Justice Yong said the proviso makes it clear that when an act of vandalism has been committed with paint, whether with one type or another, it attracts a mandatory minimum of three strokes of the cane.
Hence, he could not accept counsel's construction of the proviso.
The CJ said he was satisfied that the trial judge had considered fully all relevant mitigating factors and the psychiatric evidence.
He said he found no cause to disagree with the judge's decision in not calling for a pre-sentence report.
The CJ then dismissed the appeal and said full written grounds of judgment would be released shortly.
Fay's lawyers are expected to ask for presidential clemency.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 1 April 1994
Envoy's statement regrettable
The Home Affairs Ministry last night expressed regret that the American Embassy had questioned the judgment of a Singapore court for a second time.
The Embassy had issued a statement after the unsuccessful appeal of Michael Peter Fay against his sentence for vandalism.
Its Charge d'affaires, Mr Ralph Boyce, said the Embassy continued to believe that caning was an excessive penalty for a youthful, non-violent offender who pleaded guilty to a repairable crime against private property.
He expressed hope that the Singapore Government would reconsider the caning sentence on Fay.
The MHA statement said it was surprised at Mr Boyce's remarks. It said: "This is the second time he has criticised the judgment of a Singapore court in public.
"This is regrettable. As a diplomat accredited to Singapore and representing a country that respects the rule of law, he should respect Singapore's judicial system."
The statement went on to say that there were official channels for him to make representations and added that the damage Fay had caused was extensive.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 2 April 1994
US senators ask President Ong to grant clemency to Fay
WASHINGTON -- Twenty-four US senators have signed a letter appealing for clemency from President Ong Teng Cheong for an American teenager after a court in Singapore upheld his caning and jail sentence for vandalism.
The senators said Michael Fay, 18, had a history of emotional problems. Severe corporal punishment could create psychological damage that would take years to repair.
"Given Fay's emotional condition, his youth and the severity of caning, we believe that your exercise of clemency in this case would be an enlightened decision," they said in the letter.
It was circulated on Capitol Hill by Senators Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn. They are both Democrats of Ohio, Fay's home state.
The teenager pleaded guilty early last month to vandalism by spray-painting two cars on Sept 17 and 18 last year with two or three others.
The appeal court's decision sparked a renewed US criticism of Fay's "excessive" sentence.
US senator William Cohen, who is on a four-day visit to the Republic, meanwhile regretted the court's decision.
Mr Cohen, a Republican member of the US Armed Services Committee, said he had discussed the case with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime Minister Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong.
He said he expressed concern that Fay was being singled out for special treatment but they both "clearly indicated that this is not the case" and that it was a judicial matter.
"I gathered from the leadership that they're not going to yield," he said. "They resent the West telling them what they should do and they're obviously ready to take the consequences."
"It has become a test of wills. Will Singapore yield to pressure from the US? The answer is no."
He also said he did not foresee any "disruption in political relations between the US and Singapore".
In another development, Fay's mother, Mrs Randy Chan, said that she was seeking a meeting with President Bill Clinton to save her son from the caning.
She said on Thursday that she had also written to former president George Bush asking for his intervention. Mr Bush is visiting Singapore on April 14 and 15 as part of Citibank's Asian Leadership series of lectures.
She and her ex-husband, Mr George Fay, would ask President Ong for clemency. She said she was organising a worldwide petition campaign. "We have thousands of signatures already."
The case had become a political issue, she said, adding: "He's been treated a little like a murderer; he's been followed when he was out on bail.
"What we hear from a very reputable source is that Michael and his stepfather and I have been followed by as many as 100 intelligence people in Singapore since sentencing."
The boy's father said he felt that the teenager's chances of not being caned were virtually zero. The case, he said, had become a political issue to send a signal to Singaporeans about "decadent Western ways". -- AP, AFP, UPI, Reuter, LA Times.
The Independent On Sunday, London, 3 April 1994
'Joe Public' backs caning of American
By David Usborne
AMERICANS ARE watching with increasing fascination the plight of Michael Fay, their 18-year-old countryman who has been sentenced in Singapore to six lashes of the cane for vandalising cars with spray-paint and eggs. And many, rather than rallying to the youth, seem to consider the punishment perfectly fitting, writes David Usborne.
The unexpected public reaction in letters to newspapers and calls to radio stations, tells as much about how Americans view their society -- increasingly ridden by crime -- as they do Singapore. One recent poll suggested that 53 per cent of voters would support corporal punishment, a view at odds with the official response so far from Washington to the Fay case. Indeed, a fair-sized diplomatic rumpus is being stirred by the case, with President Bill Clinton having added his own voice to calls for clemency.
But Singapore, America's 11th most important trading partner, is apparently unmoved. Fay was arrested last October and confessed - under pressure, he now claims - to defacing the cars. A month ago, he received a sentence that President Clinton publicly called "extreme": four months in prison, a fine of $2,230 (£1,490), and six strokes on the buttocks with a four-foot, half-inch-thick rattan cane. He lost his appeal on Thursday.
The caning is not a blotting-paper-down-the-trousers affair. The offender is tied to a wooden, easel-type frame. The buttocks are then bared, although soft material is attached immediately above to protect against damage to the spine and internal organs. The cane will have been soaked overnight in water and antiseptic to prevent splitting and the introduction of infection. It will be wielded by a prison official trained in martial arts.
"On the very first stroke of the cane, the skin is split," Fay's mother, Randy Chan, explained to viewers of the ABC programme, Primetime Live. "By the second stroke, the buttocks are totally bloodied." Mrs Chan, weeping before the cameras, could have said more. Others familiar with the punishment say the victims often pass out early on, and are revived by a doctor before the next strokes are administered.
Lawyers for Fay attempted to depict a troubled childhood. Fay, whose parents divorced when he was seven, lives with his father in Dayton, Ohio, but was visiting his mother and stepfather in Singapore when he crossed the nation-city's famously unbending authorities. In rejecting the appeal, Chief Justice Yong Pung How retorted that Fay had committed acts of vandalism "relentlessly and wilfully over a period of 10 days".
Meanwhile, Washington is sustaining its diplomatic pressure. "We regret the appeal court's decision," a spokesman for the State Department said on Thursday. 'We continue to believe that caning is an excessive penalty for a youthful, non-violent offender who pleaded guilty." Caning, introduced to Singapore by colonial Britain, is outlawed under international human rights conventions.
In their letters and calls, however, many Americans betray almost an envy for the system in Singapore. With America so overwhelmed by crime, such a reaction is not surprising. On what grounds, after all, can the US lecture others on crime prevention?
Mike Royko, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, reported receipt of a "stack of letters several inches high" -- 99 per cent of them in support of Singapore's sentence. This, for instance, from Claude Waife, of South Bend, Indiana: "That American punk is getting exactly what he deserves. If we had similar laws, I'm sure our streets wouldn't be under control of the thugs and slugs." And from Tom Lavin, of Niles, Illinois: "I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that this guy never does it again. We should do it in this country."
The Singapore embassy in Washington, and even Tony Hall, the congressman from Dayton who is trying to gather support for Fay's cause, say they are receiving a flood of letters, mostly in the same vein. This cannot be helping Fay, whose slim hope of escape from the cane now is last-minute clemency from the President of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong. No date has been set for the caning, but neither has there been any word from the presidential compound.
Newsweek, New York, 4 April 1994
Your report "Six Lashes in Singapore" (U.S. Affairs, March 14) gives the impression that Michael Fay's crimes consisted merely of "disfiguring two cars with eggs and spray paint." The list of offenses committed by Fay, an American, runs much longer. He had initially been charged with a total of 53 counts of vandalism and related offenses. However, after plea bargaining, he was charged with two counts of vandalism, two counts of mischief and one count of retaining stolen property -- all of which he pleaded guilty to. In passing sentence on Fay, the court also took into consideration his admission to 16 other counts of vandalism and four counts of mischief. Twenty-seven counts of vandalism and one count of possession of dangerous fireworks were withdrawn as a result of the plea bargaining. In the last five years 12 Singaporeans and two foreigners have been sentenced to caning for vandalism. In upholding the law, Singapore treats both Singaporeans and foreigners alike.
National Public Radio, Washington DC, 4 April 1994
All Things Considered
Singaporean Explains Caning as Means of Punishment
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host: The case of 18-year-old Michael Fay, an American living with his mother and stepfather in Singapore, has cast attention on a feature of that country's penal system - caning. Fay pleaded guilty to vandalism and criminal mischief for spray painting 18 cars.
He was sentenced to a fine, a jail term, and six lashes with a rattan cane. American officials, including President Clinton, have asked that Michael Fay be spared the caning. Fay has exhausted his legal appeals, but still has a chance at clemency.
Francis Seow [sp] is a Singaporean exile and former opposition figure who now lives near Boston. He was that country's solicitor-general in the late 1960s. He says that caning used to be reserved for violent offenders, but Singapore's dominant political leader Lee Kuan Yew extended caning to cover vandalism during an epidemic of political graffiti from the opposition. Seow says the cane is about four feet long and is wielded by a prison employee who practices on sandbags.
FRANCIS SEOW, Former Singapore Solicitor General: The person is strapped to a trestle. Then he- his kidney area is covered to insure that no strokes land in the kidney area.
SIEGEL: You mean, so as not to inflict permanent organ damage there?
Mr. SEOW: That's right. Correct. So, it is aimed at the buttocks, you see. Now, for the cane to inflict maximum pain and punishment, the cane kept dipped in a brine solution. It serves two purposes. One is to keep the cane flexible; the other too is a kind- it also has a kind of antiseptic effect, you see, the salt.
SIEGEL: That's an antiseptic. Tell me something, Mr. Seow, as a former solicitor general of Singapore. Let's not address the issue of whether this is somehow peculiarly fit or unfit punishment for an American admitted vandal. Do you regard this as particularly fit punishment for any kind of vandal in Singapore?
Mr. SEOW: Personally, I am not in favor of caning as a general proposition. I think caning, if at all, should be confined to crimes of violence like rape and robbery violence.
SIEGEL: Is there any capital punishment in Singapore?
Mr. SEOW: Yes, yes, yes.
SIEGEL: So that there are executions, but there also are these corporal punishments that are administered for various crimes.
Mr. SEOW: Oh, if you are sentenced to death, OK, then they wouldn't administer corporal punishment in addition to it.
SIEGEL: No, I understand that. But when you say that a rapist, for example, a convicted rapist, might be caned.
Mr. SEOW: A rapist, yes.
SIEGEL: Would that be in addition to imprisonment?
Mr. SEOW: Oh, yes.
SIEGEL: Yes, I see.
Mr. SEOW: Of course, of course. He can- he's liable to a maximum of 24 strokes. And let me tell you this much. I know personally of people who prefer to serve a longer term of imprisonment than to undergo the sentence of caning.
SIEGEL: You mean, so painful is the caning-
Mr. SEOW: -Oh, yes, yes, they know it, you know?
SIEGEL: Well, now let me introduce one more factor into this story which is that the 18-year-old man who was sentenced to the six strokes of the cane is an American and he could easily, I assume, under most countries' law, say, be deported and never darken the door of Singapore again. You could just send him out and that would end what seems to be a piece of tension between Washington and Singapore. How does that alter, if in any way, your view of this sentence of caning.
Mr. SEOW: No, you see what is going to happen. He has to undergo his punishment first. He will definitely be deported. That I promise you.
SIEGEL: You mean after the caning?
Mr. SEOW: Oh, he will be deported for sure.
SIEGEL: What do you make, Mr. Seow, of all of the articles and letters to the editor that have been written over the past couple of weeks and the appeal of the U.S. government, for that matter, many of which note that there is a cultural gap here between the kind of punishment that Singaporeans have come to accept as normal and suitable for certain offenses and something that strikes an American as cruel and unusual?
Mr. SEOW: Well, you see, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. See, this is exactly what Lee Kuan Yew would say. I mean, you look at what- look at Singapore today. You can walk the streets quite happily without fear of being mugged, assaulted, raped, or robbed, and look what's going on in America.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Seow, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. SEOW: Not at all, you're welcome.
SIEGEL: Francis Seow is a former solicitor general of Singapore.
[The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it has not been proofread against audiotape and cannot, for that reason, be guaranteed as to the accuracy of speakers' words or spelling.]
Copyright 1994 National Public Radio. All Rights Reserved.
New York Post, 6 April 1994
Even worse, down there they cut your hair at the airport!!
Corpun file 06140
The Chronicle, Duke University, Durham, NC, 6 April 1994
Whip it: Flogging does not merit U.S. intervention
Since President Clinton took office, groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have worked to bring his attention to the issue of human rights. Clinton's interest in the issue has been agonizingly sporadic, but the prospect of a pair of bloody American buttocks has stirred him to intervene in the international scene.
The buttocks belong to Michael Fay, an 18-year-old from Dayton, Ohio, who was caught vandalizing cars in Singapore. Singapore has no extraterritoriality, meaning that foreigners within its borders are subject to its laws, rather than the laws of their home country. Hence, Fay faced punishment determined by the Singapore government. Punishment for the crime included a fine of $2,215, a four-month prison term and six flogs on the buttocks. The flogging, performed by a martial arts expert, can cause permanent scars.
Fay's mother has enlisted the support of President Clinton and Rep. Tony Hall of Ohio to lobby for leniency from the Singapore government. Clinton argues that the punishment is extreme, but Singapore has held firm. Fay's appeal of the sentence was denied last week, and he has now sought clemency from Singapore's president.
Clinton and Hall should not concern themselves with this young man's case. Fay was caught breaking the law and must be held responsible for his actions. He cannot expect leniency based on his nationality. By American standards, the punishment may indeed seem harsh and extreme, but is it worthy of presidential or congressional attention? Are there not more important human rights violations that cry out for our leader's notice?
In the context of human rights, flogging as a punishment for vandalism is negligible. Human rights violations are a sad fact of life in today's world. Every day, governments around the world kill, beat or starve their own peoples. These kinds of violations are unconscionable, and the United States should take a leadership role in trying to stop them. This country should not, however, involve itself only when an American is being abused.
Credibility in the area of human rights comes from consistency of principle. If the United States believes that flogging in Singapore is a human rights violation, then it should condemn flogging at all times, whether the victim is an American or a citizen of Singapore. Rather than take a stand only when an individual American is in jeopardy, the president and Congress should consistently fight abuses that affect citizens of other nations.
Sadly, the United States seems willing to ignore the vast majority of human rights abuses, many of which make flogging seem like a vacation. Will this country apply principle only when Americans are at risk?
New York Post, 6 April 1994
Docs to Singapore: Spare the rod
An international physicians group has urged Singapore to commute the caning of a U.S. teen-ager and abolish the punishment, calling it the equivalent of "torture".
Physicians for Human Rights wrote to President Ong Teng Cheong, calling on him to commute the sentence of Michael Fay, 18, who was sentenced to undergo the often-bloody procedure for spray-painting cars in Singapore.
The Boston-based organization of 4,000 noted reports that caning causes bleeding, swelling and bruising of the buttocks and frequent traumatic shock and scarring.
Its letter said they were "concerned that the physical and psychological consequences of this punishment are equivalent to the effects of torture, which is outlawed in Singapore" as well as a violation of international covenants.
The doctors asked for the sentence "to be commuted and that the punishment be legally abolished. We also seek assurances that current legislation requiring physician participation during the practice of caning be amended, as it contravenes international standards of medical ethics."
Singapore defends caning as needed to deter crime and stop the country from becoming crime-ridden like New York City.
Fay faces six lashes after pleading guilty March 3 to charges of vandalism, mischief and possession of stolen property.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 8 April 1994
Fay to file appeal for clemency by April 20
LAWYERS acting for 18-year-old Michael Peter Fay have until April 20 to file an appeal to the President for clemency.
Fay's lawyer, Mr Dominic Nagulendran, said that they would submit the appeal as soon as possible.
Fay pleaded guilty early last month to vandalism, for spray-painting two cars on Sept 17 and 18 last year.
He was sentenced on March 3 to four months' jail and six strokes of the cane and fined a total of $3,500 by District Judge F.G. Remedios on two counts of mischief and one charge of keeping 16 stolen items.
Sixteen other vandalism and four mischief charges were taken into consideration. His final court appeal was rejected on march 31 by Chief Justice Young Pung How.
A Presidential pardon is Fay's last hope to be spared the cane.
Twenty-four American senators have signed a letter to President Ong Teng Cheong, appealing for clemency.
The letter was circulated among the senators by Senators Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn, both Democrats of Ohio, Fay's home state.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 8 April 1994
What US columnists say about Fay's caning
THE Michael Fay case has aroused a storm of protest in sections of the US media -- a trend that runs counter to the large degree of support the caning sentence has elicited among many ordinary Americans.
New York Times columnist William Safire set the tone of the criticism by labelling the sentence as outright "torture".
The "torture of choice" of the "dictatorship" of Singapore was "flogging by rattan cane, which elicits the screams satisfying to torturer and scars the torturee physically and mentally for life."
"Torture is an act of savagery as old as civilisation," he wrote. "In our century, the Nazis delighted in finding new scientific methods for the infliction of pain, while 'tiger cages' were an Asian contribution.
Today, it is not permitted by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but "the government of Singapore (along with Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago) stands aloof from the universal condemnation."
He admitted that some Americans "espouse torture", but added that they did so "thoughtlessly".
"The only civilised punishment is loss of property (a fine) and/or loss of freedom (a jail sentence). Taking away a convict's freedom punishes but does not inflict pain. What about our death penalty? Not germane; that retributive justice by lethal injection is painless."
What if Singapore should not heed President Bill Clinton's appeal to "avert the infliction of agony on one of our citizens"? How should Americans respond if "the dictator continues to espouse state-sponsored torture"?
His answer was that 300,000 Americans could stop visiting Singapore every year or flying its airline; stockholders and customers of US companies doing business in Singapore could re-examine corporate investments and purchases; the use of "cheap Singapore labour" to "add value" to US exports to Asia could be re-examined.
"Torture is a crime against humanity," Mr Safire concluded. "How long can Singapore prosper as a lawless state?"
Similar sentiments were evident in a column by Mr Richard Cohen in The Washington Post.
He, too, conceded that "most Americans think Singapore's threatened flogging of an 18-year-old Ohio native for vandalism is just terrific".
But the controversy was "not about Singapore at all, but about America".
"Would truly harsh penalties turn New York into a Disney World with skyscrapers? Indeed, would these sorts of punishments reduce crime in the United States?"
He did not think so.
"In the first place, there is no likening an Asian society on the tip of the Malay peninsula to the United States. America's societal problems, its racial difficulties, its cultural differences have to be taken into account.
"Singapore is not a boot camp for civilians merely because it has tough rules, but also because it is a different society."
Secondly, Mr Cohen argued, the punishment "amounts to torture ... Can anyone not think that one lash is more than enough"? Would not the fine have sufficed, or could not Fay have been sent back to Ohio?
"Singapore, contemptuous of supposed American softness, has chosen the most obnoxious course."
But, he lamented, "instead of Americans protesting the flogging of one of their own, they have let fear of crime prompt them to embrace barbarism -- as if the caning of Michael Fay would make things safer in American cities".
Mr Joe Murray, editor-publisher emeritus of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News and senior writer for Cox Newspapers, was less circumspect in his column.
"So some teenage vandal from Dayton, Ohio, has his butt in a Singapore sling," he began.
"So the law of Singapore mandates caning," he said.
"Never mind that he'll be marred for life, that caning is a form of mutilation. It's not fur that flies, but flesh.
"Never mind that what Singapore calls law and order, Amnesty International calls torture.
"Never mind that our laws wouldn't allow a dog to be whipped like that."
He went on to ask whether Singapore had heard of "law and order, Persian-style, 400 BC or thereabouts", and described in grim detail a form of torture known as "the rite of the boats".
Turning his attention from Singapore to America, he said it was "a sad commentary when people of America, a nation founded on the principles of justice and fairness, clamour for cruel and unusual punishment". Were Americans "so miserable that the milk of human kindness has clabbered in our veins"?
His conclusion: "There's a meanness in America that has manifested itself with this issue -- pro-Singapore and un-American."
Like the columnists, an editorial in The Los Angeles Times acknowledged that "Singapore has earned a measure of approval from Americans fed up with juvenile crime".
However, it adopted a different tack in criticising the city-state. In its view, the caning was part and parcel of life in Singapore, "a repressive place whose disgraceful standards of political participation, press freedom and criminal justice are unattractive by any modern democratic gauge".
"All of his has contributed to a stifling intellectual climate," the editorial said.
"Singapore has high hopes of making itself the economic capital of Asia, rivalling Hongkong. But it cannot do so in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and repression in which the market may be free, but not individual lives. Singapore may have beaten drugs and graffiti, but the price is too high."
A New York Times editorial said that Singapore's "brutal punishment on a young visitor who engaged in mischief ... would shock many Americans and people elsewhere who value humane punishment".
True, the US was one of a handful of advanced countries that, like Singapore, had capital punishment. "That makes the United States an odd nation to argue for civilised penalties. Yet this grossly disproportionate flogging punishment, akin to torture, cries out for condemnation," it thought.
"The brutality that Singapore threatens to inflict would be felt all over the globe and redound to its shame," it concluded.
The divergent attitudes of ordinary Americans and the US media to the case was the subject of a Reuter report from New York.
It quoted, among others, a Washington Post columnist and the night editor of the Dayton Daily News, Fay's hometown newspaper.
Both said that they had received letters from the public supporting the punishment, but both added that they did not think Americans understood just how serious the punishment was.
However, it also mentioned excerpts from a letter to the Wall Street Journal by Mr Jonathan Holburt, an American executive who has lived in Singapore for six years.
"Instead of howling in sympathy with the bad guy, American officials should admire the swift, strong arm of Singaporean justice," Mr Holburt said.
He added that Fay's crime had done permanent harm by causing emotional damage.
"When Michael Fay spray-painted those cars, he violated his victims' sense of security and tore away at Singapore's identity as a safe place to live".
The Straits Times, Singapore, 8 April 1994
Asad Latif replies to the commentaries
It's all invectives and not cold logic
WHAT is interesting about the four commentaries is not their arguments.
Some of the points made are really expressions of anger, not attempts to clarify issues.
From the choice of intemperate words ("dictatorship", "lawless state") to the use of historical examples of torture (Persian-style, Nazi-style) that have nothing to do with the present case, their purpose appears to be to scold those Americans who support the caning, vilify the country which has imposed it, and, in one case, threaten Singapore with dire consequences.
The Los Angeles Times editorial is of a different kind altogether. With remarkable latitude provided to gratuitous arguments, it relates the sentencing of one American teenager to innumerable examples of allegedly "disgraceful standards" in the Republic.
No, it is not their arguments -- or lack of them -- that make these commentaries significant.
What makes them interesting is a single theme, which is reiterated in the Reuter report.
Taken aback by the degree and depth of American public support in favour of the caning sentence, the commentaries assume that Americans do not really understand what the punishment entails.
Responding to that supposed ignorance, they go on to claim that caning is no less than torture.
That being the case, they argue, civilised Americans should not support caning, even if they think that their own society has gone soft on crime.
It is not up to a Singapore columnist to tell Americans how they should view crime and punishment in their country. However, the commentaries appear misdirected for several reasons.
First, it is difficult to accept the proposition that Americans do not know what caning really involves. It is precisely the severity of the punishment that has caused the case to receive widespread publicity.
Press reports have described in graphic detail what the rotan is, how the caning is administered, how each stroke splits the skin and how painful the entire experience is.
And it is precisely in response to the same publicity that a large number of Americans have come out in support of caning, though some have opposed it.
Surely, then, support for the sentence could not have been the result of ignorance.
Secondly, those Americans who support caning and want it introduced in the US do so precisely because it is tough. They consider caning a deterrent to crime.
Again, it is not up to a Singapore journalist to tell Americans whether their courts should be harder on criminals. What is evident is that there are Americans who think they should, and it is for that reason that they support caning.
Now, it is entirely proper for commentators to disagree with this strand of public opinion, but for anyone to claim that it is not a legitimate response is to go against one of the tenets of a liberal democracy: the right of members of the public to hold dissenting views as long as these do not result in violence or prevent others from holding different views.
To respond to Mr Cohen, whose commentary is the most reasoned, whether truly harsh penalties would transform New York is a matter of debate, but it is precisely as part of that debate that many Americans support caning.
Thus, for Mr Murray to discover a pro-Singaporean and anti-American "meanness in America that has manifested itself with this issue" is a transparent attempt to vilify certain Americans merely because their views are opposed to his and in sympathy with Singapore's stand.
Finally, if the objective of the commentaries is to ask for compassion for Michael Fay, their strategy is very strange, indeed.
The sharpened adjectives, chosen to hurt, the strident tone, and the generally dismissive style appear to have less to do with a young man awaiting a tough punishment and more with an arrogant indignation over the way the Singapore system works.
If that system is barbaric and lawless, -- an unlikely piece of criticism, this last one! -- if Singaporeans should look to Persian or Nazi examples for models of "torture" to practise, if this is what it boils down to, then what scope can there be for even talk of compassion?
It would have been more productive for the commentaries to have avoided the easy option of heated invective for the far more difficult task of shedding light on the subject.
The writer is a senior leader/feature writer of The Straits Times.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 9 April 1994
CJ: Judge did right in ordering jail, cane for Fay
A DISTRICT judge was fully justified in sending Michael Peter Fay to jail and imposing the mandatory minimum of three strokes of the cane on each of two vandalism charges, said the Chief Justice.
In his written grounds of judgment which were released yesterday, Mr Yong Pung How said he was satisfied that the district judge, Mr F.G. Remedios, gave full consideration to all the relevant mitigating factors, including Fay's youth and guilty plea.
He also agreed with the judge that the circumstances of the 18-year-old former Singapore American School student's case did not warrant an order of probation.
Last week, Fay lost his appeal against sentence of four months' jail and six strokes of the cane for vandalising two cars.
Sixteen other vandalism and four mischief charges were taken into consideration.
The CJ, who dismissed the appeal, had said that Fay had committed all the vandalism acts relentlessly and wilfully over 10 days -- from Sept. 17 to 25 last year, which amounted to a calculated course of criminal conduct.
He also said he was unable to accept the construction that Queen's Counsel Michael Sherrard tried to put upon the words "paint, tar or other indelible substance."
CJ Yong said: "I could see no reason to deviate from the plan meaning of the words in the proviso."
In his written judgment, he pointed out that there was no evidence within the proviso or anywhere else in the Vandalism Act to suggest that all acts of vandalism committed with paint be subjected to the sort of ad hoc test of indelibility which counsel suggested.
The proviso, he said, was unambiguous in stipulating that an act of vandalism committed with paint, whether it be paint of one type or another, attracted a mandatory minimum of three strokes.
He said it was not shown during the appeal that the plain meaning of the words used in the proviso would lead to absurdities or injustice of such proportions as to warrant a different construction.
On whether a pre-sentence report should have been ordered, the CJ felt that the courts had the discretion to decide the suitability of offenders for rehabilitation, while also weighing the need to safeguard the interests of society.
Mr Sherrard had also argued that the original legislative intent behind the provision for caning was directed at suppressing violent political elements in the 1960s, which wreaked havoc by inscribing anti-national slogans in public places.
But the CJ felt that while this might have been one of the more urgent aims when the Act was enacted in 1961, a reading of the relevant Parliamentary Debates showed that the legislature was simultaneously concerned with containing anti-social acts of hooliganism.
Fay's lawyers have until April 20 to file a petition for clemency from President Ong Teng Cheong.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 9 April 1994
Cane Fay? It depends on how much you value law and order
By Han Fook Kwang
ONE good might emerge from the American hullabaloo over the Michael Fay case: it will help Singaporeans understand better why the United States has such a serious crime problem.
At issue is not the case itself. That was settled in a court of law when the 18-year-old American pleaded guilty to spray-painting several cars, damaging the door of one of them, switching the licence plate of another, and keeping stolen property.
No one has disputed the court's findings or said that Fay did not receive a fair hearing.
What has been the centre of attention is the standard punishment meted out by the court to convicted vandals here: in this case, six strokes of the rotan.
This newspaper has received more than 130 letters on the matter, mainly from Singaporeans, but also about a quarter from abroad, mostly Americans.
Nine out of 10, including those from the US, supported the Government's position that the law must be upheld.
They urge it not to succumb to American pressure.
There have also been numerous articles in US newspapers over the issue, with many Americans supportive of the system here.
Reading these reports and the letters we have received, it seems clear to me that Americans are fed up with crime in the US, and want firmer action taken against criminals.
Mr Robert N. Cleaves from Los Angeles wrote in a letter to this newspaper:
"I have been an attorney for 33 years and was a Los Angeles police officer for 10 years. Both law-abiding citizens and the police in the US are frustrated by our inadequate and unresponsive legislative and judicial systems.
"Singapore can be proud of its legislative and judicial systems and the proof is easily found -- a clean and orderly nation whose citizens respect the police and the courts."
The anti-caning lobby has, of course, not taken all this lying down.
They have more than made up for their lack of numbers by the quality of their star-studded line-up.
Heading the list, President Bill Clinton described the punishment as "extreme". Twenty-four US senators have signed a letter appealing for clemency from President Ong Teng Cheong.
But it is the political commentators and the editorial writers who have led the field with some of the most scathing attacks on the system here.
The New York Times, in an editorial, called the punishment "grossly disproportionate ... akin to torture ... brutality (that would) be felt all over the globe and redound to its (Singapore's) shame."
Adding to the paper's comments, one of its most celebrated columnists, William Safire, wrote:
"I do not think any person or government has any right to inflict physical pain on another human being. If anything in life is morally wrong, torture is morally wrong.
"This issue is not about degrees of harshness, nor is it limited to one teenager; it is a case of a state asserting an intolerable 'right to torture'."
Jim Hoagland, a Washington Post columnist, ranged even wider in his broadside, with the salvo that the issue was not one of crime and punishment but of one culture trying to express its supremacy over another.
"In looking at this problem with Singapore, it is not incidental that this city state at the tip of the Malay peninsula is ruled by ethnic Chinese citizens who have not lost totally the Han emperors' disdain for non-Han cultures."
After comparing Singapore's action with China's own rebuff of US attempts to impose human rights standards, Mr Hoagland concluded:
"This conflict revolves around thousands of years of institutionalised racism practised by Chinese leaders, from the emperors to the chairman's commissars."
What is one to make of these criticisms?
As far as crime in the US is concerned, these comments tell me that it will be an uphill task there.
It is not that Americans are more prone to breaking the law, but that there are men, and well-placed ones too, who are against taking firm action against lawlessness and criminals.
As long as they prevail in the debate there, crime will forever remain an intractable problem.
And so New York will continue to have its 2,000 murders and 99,000 burglaries a year and US cities will continue to lead the world in the number of murders and muggings.
Mr Safire argued that the issue was about torture and the State's right to inflict it.
He ignored conveniently the responsibility of the State in ensuring that its citizens were protected from those who would mutilate their property or harm their bodies.
The issue is not about the State's right to inflict pain but its responsibility in ensuring law and order.
Indeed that is the nub of the issue: how much does a society value law and order?
Singaporeans value it to a high degree, and so accept that sentences must have a deterrent effect.
The attitude here is: yes, the punishment is harsh, so we had better keep on the right side of the law.
Americans who protest against Mr Fay's punishment would disagree. They have every right to do as they please in their own country, and to pay the price of their liberal attitudes.
But to expect Singapore to make an exception of the law because an American is involved is to show utter contempt for the legal system here and the interests of Singaporeans.
I suppose it would be too much to expect them to care about the consequences of Singapore succumbing to their demands.
If it does give in, Singaporeans would lose confidence in the courts and the Government, no less.
It is this total disregard for the feelings of the people here, and of the consequences of their action that I find quite detestable.
When Mr Hoagland said that Singapore's action arose because its Chinese leaders wanted to demonstrate their superiority over others, did he even stop to think about how such comments could damage race relations in the country, and with its Muslim neighbours?
Of course not.
All he was interested in doing was to spin an interesting theory to save an American's buttocks from a few strokes of the rotan.
I do not for one minute think any person in his right mind will believe such a far-fetched theory, but that is not the point.
The point is that these columnists and editorial writers have no interest whatsoever in how Singaporeans view the matter, or in understanding how the system works here.
It is in times like these that one feels glad that the streets here are safe from the murderers and muggers that are allowed to roam the streets of America.
And that the likes of Mr Safire and Mr Hoagland have no influence beyond those same crime-ridden streets.
Newsweek, New York, 18 April 1994
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 22 April 1994
Flogging for vandal
From Ian Stewart in Singapore
Hong Kong student Shiu Chi-Ho was sentenced to 12 strokes of the cane and eight months' jail by a Singapore court yesterday after being convicted of four charges of vandalism.
The caning sentence is twice as severe as that imposed on American teenager Michael Fay, who is at the centre of a row between the United States and Singapore governments over the penalty.
Singaporeans with experience of caning says 12 strokes shreds the skin, sends grown men into shock and leaves victims scarred physically and mentally for life.
Standing erect in the dock, Shiu, 17, showed little emotion, apart from a slight shake of the his head when the sentence was announced by District Judge F.G. Remedios.
He has remained calm throughout the trial, apart from one period during cross-examination by the prosecution when he broke down and cried.
His father, Shiu Chung On, 50, a Singapore Broadcasting Corporation drama director, and mother, Fong Shui-Fen, an SBC actress, who was sitting in the back of the court, looked shocked but remained composed. Only her red rimmed eyes revealed the extent of Mrs Fong's distress.
Mr Shiu said "No matter how he is punished, I and my son will not admit guilt. I have a court within my heart.
"Singapore is a good place, except for this," he said.
Shiu was alleged to have spray painted cars with a group of other youths, including Fay.
Fay pleaded guilty to charges of vandalism and was sentenced to four months' imprisonment and six strokes of the cane. He has petitioned President Ong Teng Cheong for clemency.
Judge Remedios, who had also sentenced Fay, rejected Shiu's denial of involvement in the offences and said he was satisfied that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
He said the accused had committed the offences, which took place over two weekends and involved four cars, "wilfully and deliberately".
He noted that as the offences involved the use of an indelible substance they each carried a mandatory sentence of three strokes of the cane.
He said it was not a case that called for a pre-sentencing report - a procedure which can lead to a recommendation for probation - and said courts must consider the necessity of protecting the public.
"I'm of the view that the only appropriate sentence is a custodial one," he said. He sentenced Shiu to four months' imprisonment on each of the four charges but said two of the terms should be served concurrently with the others - producing a total of eight months.
He also imposed the mandatory penalty of three strokes of the cane for each of the four charges.
Shiu pleaded guilty to three traffic offences, resulting from his arrest while driving his father's car without a licence or insurance and without the consent of his parents.
On each of these charges he was fined S$500 (HK$ 2,475), in default of two weeks' jail, and additionally disqualified from driving for a year.
An additional 38 charges, involving mischief and vandalism, have been held over for mention on May 8.
His lawyer, Tan Teow Yeow, said he would be taking the case to appeal and applied for bail. On the application of the prosecution, bail was increased from S$50,000 to S$75,000.
In mitigation, before sentencing, Mr Tan said Shiu had ties to Singapore from 1984 when his parents first moved to the island republic. They had lived in Hong Kong again from 1988 to 1990 when they returned to Singapore.
Shiu had just turned 17 and as a Singapore permanent resident would be required to undergo national service training for 2½ years when he turned 18.
Mr Tan said that would correct any character defects. With both parents working and employing a foreign maid they were "a typical Singapore family".
"Until this unfortunate incident, they were a happy, small family," Mr Tan said. He submitted testimonials from four Singaporeans, including the senior controller of the SBC, who said Shiu had a "harmonious relationship" with his parents.
Mr Tan said Shiu was too young to realise the seriousness of his conduct. Deputy public prosecutor Jaspendar Kaur recalled to Judge Remedios' decision in the Fay case and said the offences committed by Shiu fully justified a custodial sentence.
Speaking after the judge's ruling, the accused's father said he was "very disappointed" with the sentence.
He said he did not know why the judge did not accept the evidence of the alibis provided by himself and his wife.
He said that last year he and his wife became Singapore citizens.
Asked if he wanted to go back to Hong Kong, Mr Shiu shook his head.
RELATED VIDEO CLIP
This 3-minute TV news clip from CNN on 21 April 1994 is captured from old videotape, so the picture quality is not brilliant. Also, the soundtrack is a bit faint so you may need to increase the volume. The anchor's first few words are missing. The report by Maria Resser shows Andy Shiu Chi Ho, the day before the above South China Morning Post report, arriving at the court for sentencing and later emerging after being ordered 12 strokes of the cane for vandalism. Reporters question him in the street, but he is surly and taciturn in response. His case got much less media attention than his schoolmate Michael Fay's, but was actually regarded as more serious. It was Andy Shiu who, under police questioning, had incriminated Michael and the others.
At this point Michael had already been sentenced (he would be caned a fortnight after this telecast). Andy Shiu Chi Ho, a citizen of Hong Kong but who had been living in Singapore with his parents for 11 years, had just turned 17; he was only 16 when the offences were committed in autumn 1993.
The Hong Kong authorities (still British in 1994) appealed for clemency to the Singapore President. As a result, on 18 June 1994, Andy's corporal punishment sentence was reduced from 12 strokes to six, and his prison term from 8 months to six. He received his caning at Queenstown Remand Prison on 23 June. He was released on 6 September.
On 21 August 1994 Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in a speech comparing Western values unfavourably with Confucian ethics, praised Andy Shiu's parents for their sense of embarrassment and shame at their son's action, contrasting it with the outrage expressed by Michael Fay's parents, who "blamed everybody except themselves". This seems a bit paradoxical given that it was Michael who pled guilty while Andy maintained his innocence of the vandalism charges.
HERE IS THE CLIP:
IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with the original copyright holders. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.
The Daily Telegraph, London, 29 April 1994
Always caning in Singapore
SIR -- Caning on the bare buttocks has always been rife in Singapore (report, April 28). When I was commissioner of prisons and superintendent of Changi prison, it was frequently used as a punishment for criminal offences and could also be imposed by the prison authorities for acts against prison discipline.
But it appears that, over the past 30 years, the Singapore Government in its wisdom has made a whipping sentence mandatory for an increased number of crimes. Undeniably, such punishment is severe but, in my day, when six or 12 strokes of the rattan cane was the vogue, I never saw any prisoner faint or unable to take the punishment.
Usually, after its infliction, they would take a proffered cigarette and walk away. If any recipient showed undue signs of distress, the Medical Officer would halt the proceedings.
It is true that the rattan cane will break the skin, but in witnessing several score of whippings I never saw profuse bleeding, only severe bruising. I do not doubt that such a sentence is a deterrent and I cannot recollect any offender's returning for a "second innings".
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