American Youth ‘Doing OK’ as Singapore Weighs Appeal


The mother of an American teen-ager sentenced to a flogging for spray-painting cars said after visiting him in prison Tuesday that he is “doing OK” but still has not heard a reply to his appeal for clemency.

The youth, Michael P. Fay, 18, is reading books and exercising but looked “a little pale,” said his mother, Randy Chan. “He is anxiously awaiting word of whether the government will accept his clemency appeal. We haven’t heard anything,” she said.

On April 20, lawyers for Fay filed the appeal, his last chance to be spared from a sentence of six strokes of a rattan cane, with Singaporean President Ong Teng Cheong. The Cabinet must make a political decision on the matter; the government has not indicated how soon that will happen.

But statements by ministers have left little doubt about government intentions. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, was quoted by Time magazine Sunday as saying that if Fay is not caned, “we’ll lose our moral authority and our right to govern.”


The world’s news media have descended on Singapore as the drama enters its final stages. President Clinton has called the flogging “extreme” and appealed for clemency. But the Singapore press has reprinted articles and letters from Americans expressing support for the sentence.

In an effort to counter the huge publicity given the impending caning, the government has issued clarifications designed to put the punishment in a better light.

On Sunday, the government-controlled Straits Times newspaper published a prisons department statement saying that caning “does not cause ‘skin and flesh to fly’ as alleged by critics” but that it may leave “bruises and marks.”

“Was this supposed to make people think it wasn’t so bad?” Fay’s mother asked Tuesday. “I think they are really reaching.”


Many journalists, including The Times, had based their accounts of caning and its effects on a September, 1973, Straits Times interview with then-prisons director Quek Shi Lei. He was quoted as saying that most prisoners lose blood, go into shock and are scarred for life. But government spokesmen now say the account was designed to scare Singaporeans.

The Sunday report, the first official description of caning since Fay was sentenced, acknowledged that a four-foot, half-inch-thick rattan cane--soaked in water--is used to flog prisoners. But the officer who carries out the punishment is “not necessarily” a martial arts expert, as Quek suggested.