Youth caned condition 'satisfactory'

May 06, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

SINGAPORE -- After two months of international debate about crime and effective punishment, American teen-ager Michael Fay was lashed with four strokes of a rattan cane in a prison here yesterday for spraying paint on cars.

Although widely expected since the Fays' appeal for clemency was turned down Wednesday, the execution of his sentence provoked outrage from his parents, and the State Department called in the Singaporean ambassador to Washington to express its displeasure.

"I think it was a mistake," President Clinton told reporters in the Rose Garden, "not only because of the nature of the punishment related to the crime but because of the questions that were raised about whether the young man was in fact guilty and involuntarily confessed."

A brief statement by the Singapore prisons department said that 10 prisoners were caned at the Queenstown Remand Prison yesterday, including Mr. Fay, an 18-year-old high school senior from Dayton, Ohio.

"He was examined by a prison doctor after the caning and found to be in satisfactory condition," the statement said.

Thousands of Americans wrote to the Singaporean government urging it to go ahead with the caning, and Mr. Fay became a symbol of a culture clash between East and West.

In an extraordinary attempt at compromise, the normally unyielding government reduced Mr. Fay's original caning sentence from six strokes to four as a goodwill gesture to the United States. Mr. Fay also is serving a four-month jail sentence and paid a $2,230 fine.

The flogging was carried out in private. In a description published Sunday, the government contended that caning does not cause "skin andflesh to fly" as alleged by critics, but may leave bruises and marks.

The State Department has contended that caning leaves scars and is an "excessive penalty" for a youthful first-offender in a case where the cars were not permanently damaged. It also maintained that Mr. Fay received unusually harsh treatment, since Singapore's vandalism laws were never used before in a case involving private property.

"All they have accomplished is to show how petty and narrow-minded a dictatorship they are," said George Fay, the youth's father, from the Dayton suburb of Kettering.

The youth's mother, Randy Chan, who lives in Singapore with her second husband, said that she was too overcome to comment.

Philadelphia criminal lawyer Theodore Simon, retained by Mr. Fay's family in the United States, said that the Singaporeans had "tortured an innocent young man for no other reason than to promote their political self-interest."

The sentence was carried out after a visit yesterday afternoon by Mr. Fay's Singapore lawyers, who told reporters at the prison that he had no idea when he would be caned.

"He appeared nervous, agitated," said Dominick Nagulendran, a member of Mr. Fay's defense team. "He said, 'Tell everybody I'll be home soon.' " With time off for good behavior, Mr. Fay could be released from jail on June 21.

Mr. Fay admitted in court that he had spray-painted 18 cars. But his father released a letter in which the youth claimed that he was innocent and that he confessed only after being beaten by police during nine days of interrogation.

Another youth, a Hong Kong national, has been sentenced to eight months in jail and 12 strokes of the 4-foot cane for his part in the offense. A Malaysian youth who was under age 16 at the time of the vandalism has been sent to a reform school for two months.

Another American, Stephen Freehill, and another Malaysian, still face trial in the case.

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