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Singapore punished an American youth with a beating 30 years ago. He did not recognize the objections of the US

When teenagers spray on walls, wagons and public transport cars, in the Czech Republic they are threatened with a year in prison for such vandalism. But in Singapore, a similar offense can earn the offender a draconian punishment. 30 years ago, 18-year-old Ohio high school student Michael P. Faye was taught that public beating. The Singaporean government had corporal punishment carried out on him despite the threat of international conflict.

Spanking is still a widely used and widespread form of corporal punishment in Singapore and some other Asian countries (pictured with beatings in Aceh in 2014). Singapore has never ratified a number of international treaties that prohibit corporal punishment

| Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Voice of America, free work

“They bent me over the trestle so that my buttocks were sticking up, and my arms and legs were chained to the structure. I was naked except for a protective rubber pad across my back. In addition to the man with the cane, a doctor and prison officials were present. The man with the cane took three steps forward sharply to appear superior. Then they started: One, you can hear them yelling really loud. A few seconds later came a blow with a rattan cane,” Michael Fay later described to Reuters in a Singapore court ordered beatingwhich happened exactly 30 years ago on May 5, 1994.

Source: Youtube

Sentenced to six strokes, he ended up getting four. After the fourth blow, he was unchained and taken to a cell. According to him, the beating lasted about a minute. It left several streaks of blood on his buttocks that hurt intensely for about five days, then began to itch as they healed. Traces of them were still visible after seven days. “For the first few days after the beating, it was really hard for me to sit up,” Fay recalled. However, he admitted that even after the beating he was able to walk.

Physical punishment awarded to an American student unleashed a media firestorm that escalated into a diplomatic crisis after the sentence was carried out despite numerous international protests and worsened already strained Singapore-US relations for several years.

Troubled youth

Michael Peter Fay was born on May 30, 1975 in St. Louis in the US state of Missouri, but since 1992 he lived and studied in Singapore, where his mother moved after the divorce. He enrolled at the Singapore American School, but soon ran into trouble.

“In early October 1993, the Singapore police arrested him and charged him with possession of stolen items including Singapore national flags, road signs and various signboards. Later that month, he was also charged with vandalism, allegedly spray-painting several cars and throwing eggs at them. In total, he was charged with 45 cases of vandalism, six cases of causing minor damage, one case of possession of stolen goods and illegal possession of firecrackers – a total of 53 offenses against the law,” he writes about Fay Board of the National Library of Singapore.


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It must be added that none of what the police attributed to him was committed by Michael himself. In Singapore at the time, there was a larger gang of sprayers, to which he apparently belonged, which vandalized a total of 67 cars in various city districts during September 1993.

Investigators first arrested two teenagers who were driving a car matching the one witnesses said the vandals were in, and through them they got to seven other suspects reported to them by the two: all seven were students at the Singapore American School and the ISS International School. The police then raided both schools, during which they also found stolen items, including the above, which they discovered in Michael’s possession.

Corporal punishment has been used in Singapore since the colonial era and remained legal even after Singapore became independent in 1965Corporal punishment has been used in Singapore since the colonial era and remained legal even after Singapore became independent in 1965Source: Wikimedia Commons, Jean-Baptiste Debret, free work

On February 28, 1994, the young man pleaded guilty to possessing stolen property, spraying two cars and two other cases of minor damage at the court of first instance. The court also took other offenses into account and on March 3, 1994 pronounced the verdict: six strokes with a rattan cane, four months prison and a $2,230 fine.

They tortured us, the convict claimed

Fay ended up hospitalized with depression after the verdict, and his lawyers appealed the sentence. Fay himself later began to claim that his confession was coerced and that he had done nothing – he sent a letter from Singapore to his father, who lives in the US, in which he wrote that the investigators lied to him, that the confession was the only way to avoid a judicial beating, and that he supposedly they literally tortured in custody.

“Fay, who is now in jail while his lawyers draft a pardon application, said he only signed the confession after receiving instructions from the police slap and punch. They kept him in custody for nine days without letting him sleep, and practically made it impossible for him to contact his parents and the embassy. He also stated that if he did not confess, the police threatened to spend hours interrogating him in what they called an air-conditioning chamber – an interrogation room that was freezing cold,” the US newspaper reported The New York Times April 17, 1994.

Fay also mentioned in the letter to his father that he had witnessed the brutal torture of another detained youth, a 15-year-old Malaysian, who had been taken into custody with him and was still awaiting trial in April. According to the American student, the Singaporean police beat this Malaysian so that he became deaf in one ear. He is said to have returned to the cell covered in blood from the interrogation.


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“His shirt was dirty from the blood coming from his nose. When he sat down, he told me that the investigator punched him in the nose, then hit him over the ear and hit him with a bat. He said he couldn’t hear in that ear anymore,” Fay described.

The credibility of his claim was confirmed to journalists by some former representatives of Singapore’s judiciary, such as former Attorney General Francis Seow, already a dissident and guest lecturer at Harvard Law School in 1994. According to him, the existence of the interrogation room mentioned by Fay was well known in Singapore’s legal circles.

Michael Fay was convicted of spraying cars.  Spray painting and creating graffiti is considered vandalism in Singapore and is punishable by jail and caningMichael Fay was convicted of spraying cars. Spray painting and creating graffiti is considered vandalism in Singapore and is punishable by jail and caningSource: Wikimedia Commons, jimmyweee, CC BY 2.0

“It’s so cold in there that even the investigators can’t stand it, so they leave it every now and then, but they keep you inside. I myself was locked in it several times during my 72-day detention in 1988, and it gave me goosebumps all over my body,” Seow recalled. Coerced confessions were common in Singapore at the time, he said.

The US protests

The sentence against the barely legal American, along with his testimony about torture, immediately triggered an avalanche of international protests. The US government filed a strong protest against the verdict immediately after it was announced.

The then US ambassador to Singapore, Ralph Boyce, made the first statement on the sentence on the day it was announced, calling it too harsh. He argued that Fay had not suffered any permanent damage, but that the beating could have lifelong consequences.

Even the then president of the USA personally spoke out against the verdict Bill Clinton. “We recognize that the Singaporean authorities have some right to enforce their own criminal laws, but in light of the facts and the handling of other, similar cases, we believe that this sentence is extreme and we strongly hope that it will be further reconsidered,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. Los Angeles Times March 9, 1994 Statement by the President.


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Several American and Singaporean psychiatrists wrote a petition strongly protesting the flogging of the young man. “There is a serious risk that Fay will commit suicide if she does receive the cane,” Russell A. Barkley, a psychiatrist and neurologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, said at the time.

The American media and public remained divided over the case: some newspapers harshly criticized the verdict and attacked Singapore’s judicial system for using archaic punishments. However, some said that with this verdict, Singapore was defending its values ​​against Western decadence. According to a survey done by a newspaper Los Angeles Times, 49 percent of respondents approved the punishment as appropriate, 48 percent rejected it. However, when asked whether they would approve of caning as “punishment for juvenile vandals here in the United States,” only 36 percent responded positively. Three out of five respondents rejected such an option.

The ruling stands, the government said

However, none of this swayed the Singaporean government, which upheld the verdict. She was not convinced even by a petition for clemency, which was signed by more than two dozen US senators. In response to Clinton’s intervention, the government merely reduced the number of wounds from six to four.

“Singapore’s judicial process cannot apply different standards to persons subject to the same law,” Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The court referred to the Vandalism Act of 1966, which criminalized a number of offenses in relation to public and private property, namely theft or writing and drawing on property without the written consent of the owner, in addition to fines and imprisonment these misdemeanors carry mandatory corporal punishment from three to eight strokes of the stick.


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Beating in the form of four blows with a cane, it finally came true. Fay subsequently spent about a month in a Singapore jail before returning to the States to live with his father. In late June, he gave an interview to famed CNN anchor Larry King, in which he reiterated that he had been mistreated during interrogations in Singapore, but added that he shook hands with prison guards and the man who paid him off after his release.

However, his conflicts with the law did not stop even in the USA. A few months after his return, he ended up in the Hazelden rehab program for inhaling butane, and by 1996 he had racked up a number of offenses in Florida, where he was living at the time, including careless driving, reckless driving, failure to report an accident and having an open bottle of alcohol in the car. In 1998, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, to which he pleaded guilty, but was acquitted due to procedural errors in his arrest.

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