Caning of Michael Fay

(Redirected from Michael P. Fay)

In 1994, Singaporean authorities sentenced American teenager Michael Fay to be lashed six times with a cane for violating the Vandalism Act. This caused a temporary strain in relations between Singapore and the United States.[1]

Fay was arrested for stealing road signs and vandalizing 18 cars over a ten-day period in September 1993. Fay pled guilty, but he later claimed that he was advised that such a plea would preclude caning and that his confession was false, that he never vandalized any cars, and that the only crime he committed was stealing road signs. Although caning is a routine court sentence in Singapore, Fay's sentence garnered controversy and was widely covered in the media in the United States, as it was believed to be the first judicial corporal punishment involving an American citizen.[2] The number of cane strokes in Fay's sentence was ultimately reduced from six to four after United States officials requested leniency, and the sentence was carried out on May 5, 1994.

Early life Edit

Fay's parents divorced when he was a child. After living with his father for a time, he was sent to Singapore to live with his mother and stepfather, where he was enrolled in the Singapore American School in Woodlands.[3]

Theft and vandalism in Singapore Edit

In September 1993, 67 cars were vandalized in various neighborhoods of Singapore. The damage included spray painting and being pelted with eggs, and at least one had its windshield smashed.[1][4]

The Singapore police eventually arrested two teenagers who were driving a car similar to one that witnesses had described as being involved in the vandalism. During questioning, the two gave seven names, all male students from the Singapore American School and ISS International School, whom police tracked down and raided. They found about 50 stolen items, including a telephone booth and road signs.[4]

Fay was one of these students.[1] He pleaded guilty to two counts of vandalism, referring to two cars that were spray-painted in a car park in mid-September; two counts of mischief; and one count of keeping 16 stolen items.[5] Fay later claimed that he had been intimidated and threatened during a police interrogation,[1] and maintained that he had been advised such a plea would preclude caning and that his confession was false, that he never vandalized any cars, and that the only crime he committed was stealing signs.[6][verification needed]

Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of political graffiti and which specifically penalized vandalism of government property,[3] Fay was sentenced on March 3, 1994, to four months in jail, a fine of S$3,500 (US$2,230 or £1,450 at the time), and six strokes of the cane.[7][8] Another student who pleaded not guilty was sentenced to eight months in prison and 12 strokes of the cane.[9]

Fay's lawyers lost on appeal after arguing that the Vandalism Act provided caning only for indelible forms of graffiti vandalism, and that the damaged cars had been cheaply restored to their original condition.[5]

Response Edit

Media and public reactions Edit

Following Fay's sentence, the case received coverage by the American, Singaporean and international media.[10]

Some US news outlets launched scathing attacks on Singapore's judicial system for what they considered an "archaic punishment", while others turned the issue into one of Singapore asserting "Asian values" towards "western decadence".[11] The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran editorials and op-eds condemning the punishment.[12] USA Today reported that the caning involved "bits of flesh flying with each stroke."[13]

However, Singapore also found supporters among the foreign media and the US public. For example, Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko reported that he had been sent a large number of letters, nearly all of which supported the punishment.[14][15] A Los Angeles Times poll found that Americans were evenly divided (49% approved, 48% disapproved) as to the appropriateness of the punishment, but would have only been 36% in favor had the sentence been handed down inside the US.[16]

From the United States government Edit

The Clinton administration ultimately expressed its objection to Singapore's decision to cane Fay. The official position of the United States government was that although it recognized Singapore's right to punish Fay within the due process of law, the punishment of caning was "excessive" for a teenager who committed a non-violent crime.

On March 3, the day the sentence was passed, Chargé d'Affaires Ralph Boyce at the United States Embassy in Singapore had also said that the punishment was too severe for the offence.[17] The embassy claimed that, while the graffiti and physical damage to the cars was not permanent, caning could leave Fay with permanent physical scars.[3]

Bill Clinton, the-then President of the United States, also called Fay's punishment "extreme" and "mistaken", and pressured the Singapore government to grant Fay clemency from caning. Two dozen United States senators signed a letter to the Singapore government also appealing for clemency.[18]

From the Singapore government Edit

The Singapore government stood its ground and defended the sentence and the country's right to uphold its own laws. On March 3, in response to Boyce's comments on Fay's sentence, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that it was Singapore's tough laws that kept the country orderly and relatively crime-free, unlike "in cities like New York City, where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals".[17] Various Singaporean ministers also spoke publicly about the case throughout the episode. In April during a local television program, Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister, said that the U.S. was neither safe nor peaceful because it did not dare to restrain or punish those who did wrong, adding, "If you like it this way, that is your problem. But, that is not the path we choose".[2]

Nevertheless, on May 4 that year, the Singapore government via Ong Teng Cheong, then the country's President, announced that the number of cane strokes would be reduced from six to four out of consideration for President Clinton as it valued the good historical relations between both countries.[19] The other student’s sentence was later also reduced, from 12 strokes to six, after a similar clemency appeal. Fay was caned on May 5, 1994, at the Queenstown Remand Centre.[20][21]

Caning Edit

Describing the caning day, Fay told Reuters that he did not know the time had come for punishment when he was taken from his cell. He said he was bent over a trestle so his buttocks stuck out, with his hands and feet buckled to the structure. He was naked except for a protective rubber pad fixed to his back. The flogger, a doctor, and prison officials were also present. Fay told Reuters the caner walked sharply forward three steps to build power. "They go 'Count one'—you hear them yell it really loud—and a few seconds later they come, I guess I would call it charging at you with a rattan cane." He noted that a prison officer guided him through the ordeal saying: "OK Michael, three left; OK Michael, two left; OK one more, you're almost done." Fay reported that when the fourth stroke was delivered he was immediately unbuckled from the trestle and taken to a cell to recover. The caning, which Fay estimated took one minute, left a "few streaks of blood" running down his buttocks, and seven weeks later, left three dark-brown scar patches on his right buttock and four lines each about half-an-inch wide on his left buttock. He said that the wounds hurt for about five days after which they itched as they healed. "The first couple of days it was very hard to sit," Fay reported, but he said he was able to walk after the caning.[22]

Aftermath Edit

After his release from prison in June 1994, Fay returned to the United States to live with his biological father.[23] He gave several television interviews, including one with his American lawyer on CNN with Larry King on June 29, 1994, in which he admitted taking road signs but denied vandalizing cars.[24] While he did not detail his experience, he claimed that he was "ill-treated" at times during questioning, but had shaken hands with the caning operative after his four strokes had been administered and the prison guards when he was released.

Several months after returning to the United States, Fay suffered burns to his hands and face after a butane incident.[25][26][27] He was subsequently admitted to the Hazelden rehabilitation program for butane abuse.[25] He claimed that sniffing butane "made [him] forget what happened in Singapore."[28] In 1996, he was cited in Florida for a number of violations, including careless driving, reckless driving, not reporting a crash, and having an open bottle of alcohol in a car.[29] Later, in 1998, still in Florida, Fay was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, charges to which he confessed but was acquitted[30] because of technical errors in his arrest.[31]

In June 2010, Fay's case was recalled in international news, after another foreigner in Singapore, Swiss national Oliver Fricker, was sentenced to five months in jail and three strokes of the cane for trespassing a rail depot to vandalise a metro train that is a part of the country's Mass Rapid Transit.[32]

In popular culture Edit

See also Edit

  • Oliver Fricker, who was sentenced to three strokes of the cane and seven months in jail in 2010 for a similar offence.

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d Shenon, Philip (March 16, 1994). "A Flogging Sentence Brings a Cry of Pain in U.S." The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Wallace, Charles P. (March 9, 1994). "Singapore Blasts Back at Clinton in Caning Case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Reyes, Alejandro (May 25, 1994). "Rough Justice: A Caning in Singapore Stirs Up a Fierce Debate About Crime And Punishment". Asiaweek. Hong Kong. Archived from the original on May 11, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Tan, Ooi Boon (October 7, 1993). "9 foreign students held for vandalism". The Straits Times. p. 1. Retrieved March 6, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Chong, Elena (April 1, 1994). "Fay loses appeal". The Straits Times. Singapore.
  6. ^ "Cane teen says he's innocent". Daily News. New York. June 22, 1994.
  7. ^ Wallace, Charles P. (March 4, 1994). "Ohio Youth to be Flogged in Singapore". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Watts, David (March 4, 1994). "Singapore sentences American to caning". The Times. London.
  9. ^ Stewart, Ian (April 22, 1994). "Flogging for vandal". South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. Archived from the original on September 20, 2010.
  10. ^ Parascandola, Rocco (August 1994). "Singapore Hosts Some Most Unruly Guests". American Journalism Review. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved February 24, 2007.
  11. ^ Stone, Andrea (March 10, 1994). "Whipping penalty judged too harsh – by some". USA Today. Washington DC. Archived from the original on June 17, 2020.
  12. ^ "What US columnists say about Fay's caning". The Straits Times. Singapore. April 8, 1994. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  13. ^ "Don't copy Singapore". USA Today. Washington DC. April 5, 1994. Archived from the original on February 8, 2009.
  14. ^ Usborne, David (April 2, 1994). "'Joe Public' backs caning of American". The Independent. London. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  15. ^ Royko, Mike (March 30, 1994). "Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal". Daily News. New York. Retrieved May 18, 2023 – via
  16. ^ Brownstein, Ronald (April 21, 1994). "Singapore's Caning Sentence Divides Americans, Poll Finds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  17. ^ a b Fawcett, Karen (March 9, 1994). "Americans in Singapore condemn caning for teen". USA Today. Washington DC. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  18. ^ Richardson, Michael (May 5, 1994). "Responding to Clinton's Plea, Singapore Cuts 6 Lashes to 4". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 9, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  19. ^ Branigin, William (May 5, 1994). "Singapore Reduces American's Sentence". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ Wallace, Charles P. (June 22, 1994). "Singapore Frees Flogged U.S. Teen-Ager". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 13, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  21. ^ Shenon, Philip (May 6, 1994). "Singapore Carries Out Caning of U.S. Teenager". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 24, 2017.
  22. ^ Arkus, Michael (June 25, 1994). "Teen tells of scars in Singapore caning: Fay says Flogging Lasted about a minute". The Buffalo News. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  23. ^ "The Road From Singapore". Daily News. New York. June 22, 1994. Archived from the original on March 8, 2015 – via
  24. ^ "Larry King Live". CNN. June 29, 1994. Archived from the original on March 8, 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Michael Fay," People Magazine, December 26, 1994, p. 60.
  26. ^ "Drug Rehab For Teen Caned in Singapore," Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1994, p. 14.
  27. ^ "The Nation," USA Today, Washington, D.C., September 29, 1994, p. 03A.
  28. ^ "Teen Punished in Singapore Has Drug Habit – Michael Fay Was Sniffing Butane," Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 29, 1994, p. A24.
  29. ^ "Q&A," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 13, 2003, p. B2.
  30. ^ Flatley, Kerry A. (April 9, 1998). "Boy Caned in Singapore Makes News Again". The Christian Science Monitor. Boston MA. p. 18. Archived from the original on June 24, 2016.
  31. ^ "Drug Charges Dropped," Asiaweek, Hong Kong, June 29, 1998, p. 1.
  32. ^ "Graffiti man faces Singapore caning". BBC News. June 25, 2010. Archived from the original on June 28, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  33. ^ "Caning in Singapore Cold Open". NBCUniversal. May 25, 2015. Archived from the original on March 31, 2018. Retrieved March 30, 2018. Mr. Fay. I have some good news, and bad news.
  34. ^ McDonald, Patrick (December 1, 1994). "Magical Music". The Seattle Times.
  35. ^ Mirkin, David (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart vs. Australia" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  36. ^ "One Eight Seven Movie Script". Retrieved October 1, 2023.
  37. ^ "Caning Case Prompts Look At Singapore's Tough Stand On Crime". The Seattle Times. April 3, 1994. Retrieved September 30, 2023.

Further reading Edit

  • Latif, Asad (1994). The Flogging of Singapore: The Michael Fay Affair. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 981-204-530-9
  • Baratham, Gopal (1994). The Caning of Michael Fay. Singapore: KRP Publication. ISBN 981-00-5747-4
  • The Asiaweek Newsmap (April 27, 1994). Asiaweek.
  • Chew, Valerie (August 5, 2009). "Michael Fay", Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.