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Idayu Suparto & Philip Lim
A Singaporean court sentenced a Swiss man to five months’ jail and three strokes of a cane Friday for breaking into a metro depot and spray-painting a train, a punishment that could scar him for life.
Oliver Fricker, a 32-year-old expatriate winding up a posting in Singapore as a software consultant, had pleaded guilty to trespass and vandalism, which are considered serious offences in the city-state.
Fricker was sent immediately to jail but his lawyer Derek Kang said he intended to appeal the sentence, which comprises consecutive terms of three months for vandalism and two months for trespass.
“Obviously he thinks it’s too high,” Kang told journalists, adding that Fricker would make “full restitution” to the metro operator for the damage he caused.
A minimum three strokes of the cane is mandatory for vandalism, according to the written judgement.
The punishment entails being struck with a wooden stick on the back of the thigh below the buttocks, which can split the skin and leave lasting scars.
An Amnesty International researcher described caning as “barbaric” but Singaporean officials were indignant at the intrusion into the MRT subway system, which is classified as a potential terrorist target.
Judge See Kee Oon said in a written ruling that “the incident has reinforced the need for vigilance and adequate security measures,” particularly in locations declared protected areas.
Fricker, who was arrested on May 25, eight days after the incident and two days before he was to leave for a new job in Switzerland, showed no emotion as he was led from the courtroom by policemen.
Lance Lattig, a London-based researcher with Amnesty International, said: “Caning is tantamount to torture.
“It’s a punishment that shouldn’t be used for any crime,” he told AFP.
“Singapore presents itself as a modern society, yet at the same time it is using this barbaric punishment which is completely contrary to standards held around the world.”
Vandalism is punishable by up to three years in jail or a maximum fine of 2,000 Singapore dollars (1,440 US dollars), plus three to eight strokes of a cane, a penalty dating back to British colonial rule. For trespass in a protected area, Fricker faced up to two years in jail.
Prosecutors said Fricker and a British friend visiting Singapore broke into a subway depot and spray-painted two carriages before dawn on May 17 as part of a pre-meditated prank.
Singapore has launched an international hunt for the 29-year-old Briton, Lloyd Dane Alexander, who allegedly planned the act but left the city-state before he could be caught, leaving Fricker to face the consequences.
Prosecutors said the pair spray-painted the words “McKoy” and “Banos” — the signature of train vandals whose elaborate works are celebrated in YouTube videos and websites that regard graffiti as an art form.
“These were not impulsive displays of youthful bravado. They were committed by a 32-year-old software consultant who was in Singapore ostensibly for employment purposes, with full consciousness that what he was doing was illegal,” the judge said in his ruling.
But he noted that Fricker was a first-time offender who was unlikely to commit another crime.
“It is also clear that there is no evidence of any other sinister agenda.”
Singapore, a close US ally in a predominantly Muslim region, says its MRT subway system is believed to be a target of Islamic extremists.
“There are security implications for this, that somebody was able to penetrate a depot unnoticed and then commit damage,” John Harrison, a homeland security expert with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said after Fricker’s arrest was made public.
Singapore’s vandalism laws first became global news in 1994 when an American teenager, Michael Fay, was caned for damaging cars and public property despite appeals for clemency from the US government.