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Judicial CP - March 1994

Corpun file 21566


The Times, London, 4 March 1994

Singapore sentences American to caning

By David Watts

Michael Fay leaving court TO OUTSIDERS it may appear barbaric but the Singapore government is certain that caning has a deterrent effect on potential criminals.

But the sentencing of a young American to six strokes of the dreaded ratan has brought the practice sharply into diplomatic focus. American representatives have interfered on behalf of Michael Peter Fay, 18, from St Louis, Missouri, who has pleaded guilty in a Singapore court to two charges of vandalism involving spray-painting cars, two of mischief for throwing eggs at cars, and one of retaining stolen property.

Fay's mother, who attended the hearing yesterday, cried as the district judge passed the sentence, which also included a fine of $S3,500 (£1,450).

"We see a large discrepancy between the offence and the punishment," said Ralph Boyce, the American chargé d'affaires. The use of the cane was criticised in the State Department annual human rights report last year.

Fay's lawyer said he would appeal, leaving the way open for a way out of what seems likely to turn into a diplomatic confrontation. The amount of the bail money -- £31,000 -- indicates how seriously the Singapore judiciary views it.

Press cutting

The ratan, a length of bamboo [sic - actually rattan - C.F.] up to 8ft long [sic - actually 4ft - C.F.], leaves those who receive it scarred for life both physically and mentally. Less serious offences of drug possession, violence, damage, anti-social behaviour and secret society membership may be punished by its use.

The convicted criminal is normally tied to a post with bared buttocks in such a way that he must stand on tip-toe [sic - this seems to be a myth - C.F.], because the position is thought to permit less movement to help absorb the searing pain. The administrator of the punishment usually holds the ratan with both hands, and takes a run up before using the cane with all his strength.

A medical officer is present to ensure that the recipient is able to withstand the effects, which usually include the filleting of the flesh so severely that a minimum of three months is needed for the wounds to heal. Thus a sentence of six strokes would be carried out at intervals [sic - another myth - the authorities have repeatedly stated that canings are never carried out in instalments - C.F.], adding months of fearful anticipation to the trauma.

blob Note: The above contains many factual errors. The cane is nothing like 8 feet long. It is made of rattan, not bamboo, a quite different substance. Sentences are carried out in one session and never in instalments. The offender does not have to stand on tiptoe. Fay's early years were spent in Missouri but in more recent times he had lived with his father in Ohio. So much for the London Times' sometime reputation as an accurate newspaper of record. - C.F.

Corpun file 4910


Los Angeles Times, 4 March 1994

Ohio Youth to be Flogged in Singapore

By Charles P. Wallace
Times Staff Writer


SINGAPORE -- In a case likely to strain U.S. relations with a longtime ally on the sensitive issue of human rights, a judge here Thursday sentenced an American teen-ager to be flogged six times with a rattan cane and to spend four months in prison for spray-painting cars and other acts of mischief.

Michael P. Fay, 18, of Dayton, Ohio, was also ordered to pay a $2,230 fine after pleading guilty to two counts of vandalism, two counts of mischief and one count of receiving stolen property. Fay is believed to be the first American ever sentenced to be caned here.

The punishment is far more severe than the word "caning" might imply. A half-inch-thick rattan cane that has been soaked in water is used; it is wielded by an official trained in martial arts.

Prisoners often go into shock during caning, and the punishment leaves permanent scars on their buttocks.

Fay, dressed in a blue T-shirt and dungarees, seemed stunned as the sentence was read in court. His mother let out a wail and burst into tears, while two dozen American teen-agers who packed the court cried and hugged each other.


Fay, a senior at Singapore-American School, a $10,000-a-year private school for the children of expatriate parents based in Singapore, admitted having been part of a group of boys from the school who spray-painted 18 cars last fall.

He also admitted having tossed eggs at other cars and switching license plates. He admitted possession of stolen property: having in his room signs such as No Smoking and No Exit, which were stolen by the son of a Swedish diplomat.

An Australian youngster facing similar charges in the case has already fled the country, forfeiting bail rather than face caning.

A Malaysian youth who admitted to a smaller number of vandalism charges than Fay was sentenced in juvenile court Thursday to probation. A third youth, from Hong Kong, has pleaded not guilty and faces a trial.

Under Singapore law dating back to efforts in the 1960s to curtail graffiti as a political weapon, caning is mandatory in cases of vandalism when an indelible substance is used. It is left to the court's discretion to determine whether the substance is considered indelible even if, as in this case, it was removed.

District Judge F. G. Remedios said that while Fay had admitted his crimes and agreed to act as a prosecution witness in future trials against other teen-agers, his acts "could not be condoned as a display of growing pains and schoolboy pranks."

Fay -- who was released Thursday on $48,000 bail while his lawyer prepares an appeal -- arrived in Singapore in 1992 to live with his mother and stepfather, an executive with the U.S. courier firm Federal Express.

An American lawyer who attended the trial said he believed that the Singapore government was using the case to send a warning to Singaporeans about the dangers of importing decadent Western ideas. The case has received greater prominence in the controlled Singapore press than do most murder trials. Singapore newspapers published letters calling for the teen-agers to be caned, and a police spokesman was quoted as saying that "punishment for those caught . . . must be sufficiently deterrent."

Jim Doran, principal of Singapore-American School, said the Fay case had been like a "wake-up call" for other students. "In the past, Singapore society has been very permissive with our kids -- it was hands off," Doran said. "This was a radical, 180-degree departure. That was the shock."

While Singapore recently has been increasingly tied to the United States for reasons of trade and national security, government ministers have taken pains lately to point up the cultural differences between Asia and the West.

The hit television show "Beverly Hills 90210" was pulled from the government television channel because it was believed to convey approval for what was considered an unacceptable lifestyle. The government announced last month that video games will be subject to the same stringent censorship as films and videocassettes.

Compared to cities in the West, Singapore has almost no problem with graffiti. Its subway system is kept in immaculate condition -- the country even banned chewing gum two years ago to avoid gum clogging the doors.

The government believes that tough measures are justified by the country's crime statistics, which show Singapore to be one of the safest countries in the world.

Caning is mandated in a number of what are considered particularly heinous crimes, which include rape and molestation but also a foreigner overstaying a tourist visa.

Copyright © 1994 Times Mirror Company

Corpun file 1474


Los Angeles Times, 9 March 1994

Singapore Blasts Back at Clinton in Caning Case

By Charles P. Wallace
Times Staff Writer


Press cutting

SINGAPORE -- A war of words between the United States and Singapore over the sentencing of an American teen-ager to a flogging for vandalism heightened Tuesday with the government here disputing President Clinton's comments on the case.

The teen-ager, Michael P. Fay of Dayton, Ohio, was sentenced last week to six strokes of a rattan cane and four months in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of spray-painting cars, two counts of mischief and possession stolen property. He was also fined $2,230.

Fay, 18, who is free on $48,000 bail while his lawyers draft an appeal, has been checked into a local hospital because of depression, a court was told Tuesday.

He is believed to the first American sentenced by a Singapore court to a caning, a form of flogging administered by a prison official trained in martial arts wielding a half-inch-thick cane. The punishment usually leaves scars.

Clinton told reporters in Washington on Monday that the U.S. government has filed a strong protest with the Singapore authorities over the sentence. "[...] We believe that, based on the facts and the treatment of other cases, similar cases, that this punishment is extreme, and we hope very much that somehow it will be reconsidered," Clinton said.

His remarks were not reported in the controlled Singapore press Tuesday. But in a statement, the Singapore Foreign Ministry replied to Clinton, saying, "The Singapore judicial process cannot apply different standards to persons subjected to the same law." Without mentioning Clinton by name, the statement said the President's remarks about the unequal application of the law were "not correct."

The government here maintains that in the past five years, 14 men, ages 18 to 21, have received similar caning sentences for vandalism.


Corpun file 1199


USA Today, 9 March 1994

Americans in Singapore condemn caning for teen

By Karen Fawcett

SINGAPORE -- A four-month prison sentence and a $2,230 fine for car vandalism sounds like a fairly stiff sentence for a first-time offender.

But the rest of the sentence -- six strokes of a cane -- has many U.S. citizens living here up in arms. Michael Peter Fay, 18, a native of Dayton, Ohio, was sentenced last Thursday after pleading guilty to participating with other foreign students in a 10-day spree in which 18 cars were vandalized with spray paint and eggs.

None of the cars was permanently damaged. Fay, the only American in the group, was the first to be sentenced.

He came to Singapore two years ago to live with his mother and stepfather, an executive with Federal Express. Fay had been enrolled in the Singapore American School.

U.S. Embassy officials and members of the American Chamber of Commerce here have condemned the severity of Fay's sentence. His lawyer said the sentence would be appealed to Singapore's High Court. In the meantime, Fay is free on bail of $47,000. Since sentencing, he has been in a local hospital psychiatric ward.

Dennis Donahue, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here, says officials are closely following the case to ensure Fay's legal rights under Singapore law are being accorded.

While recognizing that U.S. citizens overseas are subject to the laws of host countries, Donahue says U.S. officials feel there is a discrepancy between the offense and punishment.

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs responded by noting that Singapore's stringent laws have kept the city free of vandalism or violence such as those in New York.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also told the English-language Sunday Times that Singaporeans had been ordered caned for similar offenses and it would be absurd to have separate laws for locals and Americans. "Foreigners should be more thin-skinned," he was quoted as saying.

Americans living in Singapore sent a letter to President Clinton requesting White House intervention to arrange a pardon. When asked about the case on Sunday, Clinton said, "First I have heard of this. I will look into it."

Singapore's paternalistic government strictly enforces laws that prohibit pornography and ban smoking, eating, chewing gum or drinking in designated public places. It's even illegal to fail to flush a toilet.

All of the above are punishable with fines and/or work/ prison time. Dealing in drugs is punishable by death.

There appears to be a general consensus that Fay is getting what he should have expected -- except for the caning.

"We understood the judicial process has to take place and would have accepted a jail sentence/fine," says Randy Chan, Fay's mother. "What we object to is the caning."

But Tom Watson of Rochester, N.Y., feels Michael, at 18, is old enough to know the penalties. He concludes: "We're guests here and when you're in Rome, you do as the Romans do."

Copyright 1994, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.

Corpun file 21567


USA Today, 10 March 1994

Whipping penalty judged too harsh -- by some

By Andrea Stone
USA Today

An Ohio teen-ager sentenced in Singapore to six lashes for vandalism may have President Clinton's backing but some Americans think the young man should just take his licks.

Press cutting

Michael Fay, 18, pleaded guilty to a 10-day spree in which he and other foreign students spray-painted and threw eggs, bricks and flower pots at 18 cars. Police say they found stolen Singaporean flags and street signs in Fay's home.

Last week, Fay was sentenced to four months in prison, a $2,230 fine and six lashes with a wet rattan cane. Administered by an official trained in martial arts, caning breaks the skin and leaves permanent scars on the buttocks.

The U.S. State Department Wednesday called the punishment too severe. Monday, Clinton said, "This punishment is extreme and we hope very much ... it will be reconsidered." American diplomats and business leaders in Singapore also have protested.

But a call-in survey of 23,000 people by National Polling Network Tuesday found 53% favor whipping and other harsh sentences as an acceptable deterrent to crime in the USA.

In Fay's Dayton, Ohio, hometown, some callers to the Dayton Daily News "were not at all sympathetic," says editor Max Jennings. "Some said if we treated vandals in this country as they do in Singapore, maybe we wouldn't have so many problems."

Similar comments flooded into Singapore's embassy in Washington, D.C.

"We've received a significant number of calls expressing support," says First Secretary Chin Hock Seng. "People are saying ... 'The U.S. should have implemented such a system long ago'."

Chin, who notes that Fay could have received a maximum of 16 strokes, also says he's heard from angry Americans. "A lot of people will react viscerally. You have a different set of values."

Chin says Singapore's strict laws -- one makes leaving a toilet unflushed a crime -- make it "a relatively crime-free nation."

But Fay's lawyer, Theodore Simon, says these were "childhood pranks" that are usually punished by severe scolding. Caning, he says, "violates the United Nations charter and customary international law" prohibiting cruel and inhumane punishment.

"If you read the description, it would make you lose your lunch," says Simon, who says prisoners often go into shock.

"The American people are much too compassionate and understanding to permit and tolerate this type of punishment," he says.

Yet, there's little U.S. officials can to do help Fay.

"It's a question of politics and diplomacy," says Arthur Helton of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

In a letter to his father in Dayton, the youth said he falsely confessed after police slapped and threatened to whip him. George Fay has appealed to Congress to help free his son, whom he says was promised a plea bargain of a fine and deportation.

"We've lived in terror," says George Fay. "We're very, very angry because we feel that we've been betrayed."

Fay, who moved to Singapore two years ago to live with his mother and stepfather, is free on bail while he appeals. Simon said the teen, who has attention deficit disorder, is in a hospital psychiatric ward.

As for Singapore, it remains unapologetic -- perhaps even a little smug -- about its laws. As the government noted in an eight-page defense of the sentence: "It is because of our tough laws against anti-social crimes ... that we do not have a situation like, say New York, where even police cars are not spared by vandals."

Corpun file 21568


The New York Times, 16 March 1994

Singapore Journal

A Flogging Sentence Brings a Cry of Pain in U.S.

By Philip Shenon
Special to The New York Times

Map shows location of SingaporeSINGAPORE, March 11 -- The future of relations between the United States and one of its closest allies in Southeast Asia may rest on whether this futuristic, order-loving city-state carries out a punishment that dates back to its colonial past.

An American teen-ager, who has pleaded guilty to spray-painting cars and other mischief here, has been sentenced to a flogging, a punishment that has drawn a harsh personal protest from President Clinton.

Singapore has rejected American criticisms of the sentence -- six lashes with a moistened rattan cane -- imposed on 18-year-old Michael Fay of Dayton, Ohio. It responded that tough criminal laws had saved it from the fate of "cities like New York, where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals."

President Clinton told reporters at a news conference in Washington this month that the United States had made a "strong protest" to Singapore. "This punishment is extreme, and we hope very much that somehow it will be reconsidered," he said.

Four Months in Prison

Mr. Fay, a student at the Singapore-American school, has pleaded guilty to two counts of vandalism and two counts of mischief, admitting that he was one of a group of youths who spray-painted 18 cars, threw eggs at other cars and switched license plates. He also confessed that he had been in possession of traffic signs and Singapore flags that had been stolen by the son of a Swedish diplomat.

He was ordered to pay a $2,230 fine and was sentenced to four months in prison and six lashes of the cane. Canings, in which an official trained in the martial arts strikes a prisoner's buttocks with a half-inch-thick rattan cane moistened in water, are so painful that prisoners often go into shock before the flogging is completed. They leave permanent scars.

The judge who imposed the sentence, F.G. Remedios, said that Mr. Fay's crimes "could not be condoned as a display of growing pains and schoolboy pranks." Mr. Fay is in a Singapore hospital for psychiatric treatment as he waits for the punishment to be carried out. His family appealed for clemency.

Michael Fay's biological father, George FayThe case threatens to damage relations between the United States and Singapore, which is one of its largest trading partners in Asia and its 11th-largest trading partner in the world. American businesses employ 95,000 Singaporeans, about one-sixth of the work force, and nearly 9,000 Americans live in Singapore, an island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula that resembles nothing so much as an affluent California suburb.

Western diplomats say that, given President Clinton's personal interest, Washington could react sharply if the punishment is carried out. "It's hard to imagine that United States-Singaporean relations would continue as if nothing much had happened," one diplomat said.

The charge d'affaires at the United States Embassy, Ralph L. Boyce, said, "We are not going to forecast possible future diplomatic actions." But, he added, the United States sees "a large discrepancy between the offense and the punishment."

The Singapore Government has executed four foreigners for drug trafficking in recent days despite international pleas for clemency and has laws so strict that it is illegal to fail to flush a public toilet. Singapore has said that it will not back down in the case of Mr. Fay.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the criminal justice system, said in a statement that tough laws had kept Singapore "orderly and relatively crime free."

"We do not have a situation where acts of vandalism are commonplace," the ministry said, "as in cities like New York, where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals."

The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said in a statement that it was "shaken by the reported decision to cane the boy" and warned that "it is likely to cast a cloud over Singapore's international reputation."

Mr. Fay arrived in Singapore in 1992 to live with his mother and stepfather, who works for an American package-delivery company.

He is being treated in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital while he is free on $48,000 bail pending his appeal. In preparation for sentencing, his defense lawyer presented two psychiatric reports stating that Mr. Fay suffered from symptoms of "attention deficit disorder," a neurological ailment.

In a recent letter to his biological father in Dayton, Mr. Fay said he had confessed to crimes that he did not commit our of fear of his interrogators. He said he had been slapped by an interrogator who threatened to whip him. "I don't know truly who did it, and everything that I admitted was a lie," he wrote.

Press cutting

The Home Affairs Ministry has denied that Mr. Fay's confession was coerced. The ministry said in a statement that the police had conducted an internal investigation of the treatment of Mr. Fay that "revealed no evidence of police abuse."

In an editorial last week headlined "Spare the rod, Mr. Clinton?" The Straits Times, a quasi-Government newspaper, criticized the White House "interference."

The paper said it was surprising that President Clinton had the time to worry about Mr. Fay's case, given the foreign-policy crises facing his Administration and the "deepening personal crisis" of the Whitewater affair. "Singaporeans who find his intervention objectionable need to understand that heroic gestures go down well with the American public," the editorial said.

Corpun file 4908


Los Angeles Times, 19 March 1994


Travel Advisory -- When in Rome ...

Singapore flogging case: Obey foreign laws

Honesty check: Who among us can truly say that he or she did not, if only for a fleeting moment, respond with approval to the news that a Singapore court had sentenced an American teen-ager to be flogged for vandalism?

Our informal survey suggests that this was probably the immediate reaction of most urban dwellers, who have had it up to here with graffiti and other community-blighting hooliganism. Finally, many must surely have thought, the punishment was being made to fit the crime. Except, as calmer reflection must make clear, the punishment in this case is obviously and grotesquely disproportionate to the deed.

Deliberately inflicting excruciating pain and lifetime scarring on a lawbreaker's body may or may not deter others from committing crimes. Certainly, though, it represents a regression from the values that our civilization for hundreds of years has struggled to establish as matters of human right. Yes, this is happening in a small country far across the Pacific with its own laws and culture. It is happening to a young American whose behavior was stupid, irresponsible, arrogant and insulting to the host country. That is a fact. It's no less a fact that the punishment that has been ordered is brutally excessive.

Michael Peter Fay, 18, spray-painted cars on a Singapore street and committed other acts of hooliganism. The mandatory sentence for such activities is six strokes across the bare buttocks with a wet rattan cane. The blows are delivered by a martial arts expert. They are meant to wound, and they do. Fay has also been sentenced to four months in jail and fined $2,200. He is now appealing his sentence while out on bail.

In the interests of good relations Singapore should not insist on corporal punishment for Fay. In the interests of their own well-being, Americans who travel should understand that their own country's constitutional protections don't accompany them abroad. Violate local law in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and other countries and a flogging could result. Violate anti-drug laws in some countries -- Malaysia, for one -- and hanging can follow. Law-abiding travelers don't have to be too concerned. Others had better beware.

Michael Fay should have been aware; Singapore makes no secret of its laws. But the effect of Fay's crime also ought to be weighed. No permanent damage was done, restitution was made. Surely Singapore would not be demeaning itself by showing some flexibility in this case.

Copyright ©1994 Times Mirror Company

Corpun file 3658


Daily News, New York, 30 March 1994

Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal

By Mike Royko

Mike RoykoOn my desk is a stack of letters several inches high. They are from readers responding to my column about Michael Fay, who is to be flogged in Singapore. If you missed the story, a brief summary: Fay, 18, lives in Singapore with his mother and stepfather. He and a group of young goofs engaged in a wave of vandalism: spray-painting and throwing eggs at cars, switching license plates, tearing down traffic signs and so on.

That wasn't smart. Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. It also has some of the strictest laws. Fay was caught, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in prison, a $2,000 fine and flogging.

Flogging means he will be whacked six times on the bare butt with a length of bamboo wielded by a martial arts expert. It is said that people who are flogged in Singapore sometimes go into shock and can be scarred for life.

Fay's father, who lives in Ohio, has been on TV and radio, telling of his son's plight. President Clinton has protested the flogging to Singapore officials. They have told Clinton to mind his own business.

Press cutting

When I wrote about Fay, I didn't take a position. I tried to give two opposing arguments:

(1) The sentence seems harsh by American legal standards, and if it was your kid, you wouldn't like it.

(2) Singapore is a remarkably safe, orderly society because it is rough on all lawbreakers (they hang drug dealers) and when you live in a foreign land, you better abide by its laws or suffer the consequences.

Back to the mail from the readers. If the letters are an indication, Fay and his father are asking the wrong country -- the U.S. -- to shed a tear of sympathy. Or else I have some of the most hard-nosed readers this side of Singapore.

At least 99% of them said that, yes, he should be flogged, and flogging should be part of our justice system. That was an easy percentage to come to, since only one person said she objected.

A few representative comments:

Tim Murtagh, Melrose Park, Ill.: "I have no sympathy for young Mr. Fay. How often in this country do we see the criminal in fear? Interesting how troublemakers don't like a dose of their own medicine. Damage property here and you don't get punished. Someone is there to tell you you 'need help'. In the meantime, the property owner is stuck with the bill."

Tom Lavin, Niles, Ill.: "I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that this guy never does it again. We should do it in this country. Five or six whacks on the can with a cat-o'-nine-tails is a great deterrent."

Lloyd Thornblad, Torrance, Calif.: "Fay chose to disobey the law, knowing the consequence. We were recently in Singapore and found the city head and shoulders above any others in cleanliness. Caning should make anyone think twice before being lawless."

Claude Waife, South Bend, Ind.: "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."

Chris Hill, Pasco, Wash.: "I called the Embassy of Singapore in Washington to tell them that I have no problem with the sentence. The embassy's attaché mentioned that most of the calls he has received favored the sentence. Clinton should keep his red nose out of Singapore's business."

Jim Larson, Fox Valley, Ill.: "That 18-year-old lived in Singapore, so he knew about their strict laws. If we had their laws, there would be less killings of children, fewer dope peddlers, fewer children dope addicts and less destruction of property."

Virginia Sekenske, Chicago: "I wish something like that could be done here with these punks and their graffiti. I have no sympathy. I don't, I don't!"

So what does this response tell us? That Americans are cruel, bloodthirsty and hate young people? No, it tells us that many Americans are fed up by what has happened to them, or to others, or what they see in newspapers and on TV. It tells us that the justice system is out of step with the majority. Besides three strikes, they'd like to see six swats.

And it means that there can be a political future for those who have a tough pitch. Is that good or bad? I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on whether you're on the north or south end of the spray can or pistol.

blob Follow-up: 1 April 1994: Fay loses appeal

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