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Michael Peter Fay (born May 30, 1975), better known simply as Michael Fay, is a United States citizen who was the subject of international attention in 1994 when he was sentenced to six strokes of the cane in Singapore for theft and vandalism at age 18. Although caning is a routine court sentence in Singapore, its use caused controversy in the United States, and Fay's case was believed to be the first caning involving an American citizen.[1] The number of cane strokes in Fay's sentence was ultimately reduced from six to four after United States officials requested leniency.


Early lifeEdit

Fay was born in St. Louis, Missouri.[2] His mother, Randy, divorced his father, George, when he was eight.[2] As a child, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder which, his lawyer later claimed, did not contribute to Fay committing vandalism in Singapore.[3]

Although Fay mostly lived with his father after the divorce, he later moved to Singapore to live with his mother and stepfather, Marco Chan, and was enrolled in the Singapore American School.[2]

Theft and vandalism in SingaporeEdit

In October 1993, The Straits Times, Singapore's main English-language newspaper, reported that car vandalism in Singapore was on the rise.[4] Cars parked at apartment blocks were being damaged with hot tar, paint remover, red spray paint, and hatchets. Taxi drivers complained that their tires were slashed. In the city center, cars were found with deep scratches and dents. One man complained that he had to refinish his car six times in six months.[4]

The Singapore police eventually arrested 16-year-old Andy Shiu Chi Ho, a Hong Kong citizen. He was not caught vandalizing cars, but was charged with driving his father's car without a license. After questioning Shiu, the police questioned several expatriate students from the Singapore American School, including Fay, and charged them with more than 50 counts of vandalism.[4] Fay pleaded guilty to vandalizing the cars in addition to stealing road signs. He later maintained 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 signs.[5][6]

Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of political graffiti and which specifically penalized vandalism of government property,[2] Fay was sentenced on March 3, 1994 to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singapore dollars (US$2,214 or £1,514 at the time), and six strokes of the cane.[7] Shiu, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to eight months in prison and 12 strokes of the cane.[8]

Fay's lawyers appealed, 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.[9]


From the United States governmentEdit

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. The United States Embassy in Singapore pointed out that the graffiti damage to the cars was not permanent, but caning would leave Fay with physical scars.[2]

Bill Clinton, then President of the United States, 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.[3] The Singapore government pointed out that Singaporeans who break the law faced the same punishments as Fay,[1] and claimed that Singapore's laws had kept the city free of vandalism and violence of the kind seen in New York City.[10] The Straits Times criticized "interference" by the United States government and found it surprising that President Clinton had found time to become involved, given the various foreign-policy and other crises it was facing.[5]

Nevertheless, Ong Teng Cheong, the then head of state of Singapore, commuted Fay's caning from six to four strokes as a gesture of respect toward President Clinton.[11][3] Shiu's sentence was later also reduced, from 12 strokes to six, after a similar clemency appeal. Fay was caned on May 5, 1994, at Queenstown Remand Centre.[12][13]

Public reactionEdit

Following Fay's sentence, the case received wide coverage by the American and international media.[14] The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran editorials and op-eds condemning the punishment.[15] USA Today reported that caning involved "bits of flesh fly[ing] with each stroke."[16] This latter detail was apparently taken from descriptions (originally derived from a 1974 press conference)[17] of a much larger number of strokes, for more severe crimes such as rape and robbery.

Public opinion was mixed.[18] A significant number of Americans were in favor of the caning, claiming that Singapore had a right to use corporal punishment and that the United States did not mete out severe enough punishment to its own juvenile offenders.[19] Others pointed out that once Americans go abroad, they are subject to the laws and penal codes of the country they visit.[20] The Singapore Embassy received "a flood of letters" from Americans strongly supporting Fay's punishment, and some polls showed a majority of Americans favored it.[21]

After Fay's punishment was carried out, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said it would try to prevent the World Trade Organization's first ministerial meeting from taking place in Singapore.[citation needed]


After his release from prison in June 1994, Fay returned to the United States to live with his biological father.[22] 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.[23] He also claimed that he was ill-treated during questioning, but had shaken hands with the caning operative after his four strokes had been administered.

Several months after returning to the United States, Fay suffered burns to his hands and face after a butane incident.[24][25][26] He was subsequently admitted to the Hazelden rehabilitation program for butane abuse.[24] He claimed that sniffing butane "made him forget what happened in Singapore."[27] 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.[28] Later, in 1998, still in Florida, Fay was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, charges to which he confessed but was acquitted[29] because of technical errors in his arrest.[30]

Season 19, episode 18 of Saturday Night Live cold-opened with a sketch of Michael Fay's caning. Host Emilio Estevez as Fay, Kevin Nealon administering the caning, Rob Schneider as the warden, and Phil Hartman as the doctor.[31][32]

"Weird Al" Yankovic released a song partly based on the Fay case, called "Headline News". The song also satirizes the Tonya Harding and Bobbitts stories.

Dr. Dre and Ice Cube referenced the caning in their 1994 single, "Natural Born Killaz".

The case inspired a 1995 Simpsons episode, "Bart vs. Australia", in which Australia is to punish Bart via "booting"—a kick in the buttocks using a giant boot (later reduced to a shoe).[33]

During an interview with CCTV in June 2004, Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister of Singapore, said that Fay hit his father upon his return in the United States, which was suppressed by the American media.[34] In June 2010, Fay's case was recalled in international news, after another foreigner in Singapore, Swiss IT consultant Oliver Fricker, was sentenced to five months in jail and three strokes of the cane for vandalizing a train.[35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Charles P. Wallace (March 9, 1994). "Singapore Blasts Back at Clinton in Caning Case". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e Alejandro Reyes, "Rough Justice: A Caning in Singapore Stirs Up a Fierce Debate About Crime And Punishment", Asiaweek, Hong Kong, May 25, 1994.
  3. ^ a b c Richardson, Michael (May 5, 1994). "Responding to Clinton's Plea, Singapore Cuts 6 Lashes to 4". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c Tan Ooi Boon (October 7, 1993). "9 foreign students held for vandalism". The Straits Times (Singapore). p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Philip Shenon (March 16, 1994). "A Flogging Sentence Brings a Cry of Pain in U.S.". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Cane teen says he's innocent", Daily News, New York, June 22, 1994.
  7. ^ Charles P. Wallace, "Ohio Youth to be Flogged in Singapore", Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1994.
  8. ^ Ian Stewart, "Flogging for vandal" Archived September 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), April 22, 1994.
  9. ^ Elena Chong, "Fay loses appeal" Archived September 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, The Straits Times, Singapore, April 1, 1994
  10. ^ Karen Fawcett (March 9, 1994). "Americans in Singapore condemn caning for teen". USA Today. Washington D.C.
  11. ^ William Branigin, "Singapore Reduces American's Sentence", The Washington Post, May 5, 1994.
  12. ^ Singapore Frees Flogged U.S. Teen-Ager : Asia: Michael Fay is 'happy to be out' after early release. He leaves the country, heads for home., The Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1994
  13. ^ "Singapore Carries Out Caning of U.S. Teenager", Philip Shenon, The New York Times, May 6, 1994
  14. ^ Rocco Parascandola (August 1994). "Singapore Hosts Some Most Unruly Guests". American Journalism Review.
  15. ^ "What US columnists say about Fay's caning". The Straits Times. Singapore. April 8, 1994. Archived from the original on September 20, 2010.
  16. ^ E.g. "Don't copy Singapore" Archived February 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, USA Today, Washington, D.C., April 5, 1994.
  17. ^ P.M. Raman, "Branding the Bad Hats for Life", The Straits Times, Singapore, September 13, 1974.
  18. ^ Andrea Stone, "Whipping penalty judged too harsh -- by some", USA Today, Washington, March 10, 1994.
  19. ^ Mike Royko, "Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal", Daily News, New York, March 30, 1994.
  20. ^ "Travel Advisory -- When in Rome ...", Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1994.
  21. ^ "'Joe Public' backs caning of American", David Usborne, The Independent, London, April 2, 1994
  22. ^ "The Road From Singapore", Daily News, New York, June 22, 1994.
  23. ^ "Larry King Live", CNN, June 29, 1994.
  24. ^ a b "Michael Fay," People Magazine, December 26, 1994, p.60.
  25. ^ "Drug Rehab For Teen Caned In Singapore," Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1994, p.14.
  26. ^ "The Nation," USA Today, Washington, D.C., September 29, 1994, p.03A.
  27. ^ "Teen Punished In Singapore Has Drug Habit - Michael Fay Was Sniffing Butane," Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 29, 1994, p.A24.
  28. ^ "Q&A," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 13, 2003, p.B2.
  29. ^ Boy Caned in Singapore Makes News Again," Christian Science Monitor, Boston, April 9, 1998, p.18.
  30. ^ "Drug Charges Dropped," Asiaweek, Hong Kong, June 29, 1998, p.1.
  31. ^ "SNL Transcripts - Michael Fay Caning". 16 April 1994. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  32. ^ "Caning in Singapore Cold Open". NBCUniversal. 25 May 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2018. Mr. Fay. I have some good news, and bad news.
  33. ^ Mirkin, David (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart vs. Australia" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  34. ^ "Conversation with LKY (CCTV) Part 1/2 (June 2004)". Youtube. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  35. ^ "Graffiti man faces Singapore caning". BBC News. June 25, 2010.

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