Singapore won't back down on flogging

April 13, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Sun Staff Correspondent

SINGAPORE -- The leader of this city-state sharply upbraided America yesterday for protecting individual freedoms to the point of social chaos.

Reacting to the uproar over a Singapore court's order to cane an 18-year-old American for acts of vandalism, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said the U.S. government and media have "ridiculed" Singapore for its tough stance on crime.

The defiant lecture by Mr. Lee appeared to be very bad news for Michael Fay, 18, of Dayton, Ohio, now serving a four-month jail term here for spray painting cars and other acts of vandalism.

In addition to his jail term, Mr. Fay is to receive six strokes across his bare buttocks with a rattan cane wielded by a martial arts specialist, a painful ordeal that cuts the skin with each stroke and invariably leaves permanent scars.

The flogging sentence, upheld by a Singapore court on appeal about two weeks ago, has caused an international controversy, with human rights groups labeling it a form of torture. President Clinton and U.S. senators have appealed to the Singapore government for mercy in the case. At the same time, many Americans, concerned about the deteriorating law-and-order situation in the United States, have expressed support for this tiny island republic's policies.

Mr. Fay's lawyers are preparing a plea for clemency, which must be submitted by next Wednesday to Singapore President Ong Teng Chong.

Despite the clemency plea to the president, there is little question here that Mr. Lee still has the final say in matters of importance, even though he stepped down as prime minister in 1990 after holding the position for 30 years.

And in a pre-recorded television interview that was aired here last night, Mr. Lee, who is visiting New Zealand and Australia, made it clear that the Fay case is important to him and that he does not feel much compassion for the American teen-ager.

Citing the uproar over the incident as a good example of the differences between Eastern and Western societies, he said, "The West values freedom and liberty of the individual. . . . People in the East do not think that way. . . . The Chinese emphasis is on society, on group interests. I believe that is correct.

"Our point of view is that government must protect the whole society, not individual misconduct," he said.

Mr. Lee said that the severity of the sentence in the Fay case had prompted the United States to "ridicule us." This, he said, exemplifies America's failure to "restrain or punish individuals, forgiving them for whatever they've done. That's why the whole country is in chaos."

U.S. society is the most prosperous in the world, but it is "hardly safe and peaceful," Mr. Lee said.

He then cited rampant U.S. drug use, the recent murders of two Japanese students in California, the failure to punish the Menendez brothers for killing their parents and "the woman who did something very unnatural to her husband," a reference to the Lorena Bobbitt case -- all as examples of the way in which the United States protects individual misconduct.

"If you like it that way," he said, "that is your problem. It's not the path we choose. . . . The majority of our people support the right of government to protect society."

FLOG TEEN-AGER?

The Sun is interested in hearing your opinion on Singapore's controversial decision to flog an American teen-ager for vandalism. Call Sundial, the Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. After you hear the greeting, punch in the four-digit code 6125 on your touch-tone phone.

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