The government said today that there is no reason to grant clemency to an American teen-ager sentenced to a flogging for spray-painting cars, but it announced that the punishment of six strokes of the rattan cane has been reduced to four as a “gesture” to President Clinton.
A government statement said the Cabinet had reviewed the clemency appeal filed by lawyers for Michael P. Fay, 18, and “found no special circumstances which justify commuting the sentence of caning.”
Fay, a resident of Dayton, Ohio, who is living in Singapore with his mother and stepfather, pleaded guilty in March to two counts of vandalism, two counts of mischief and possessing stolen property. He was sentenced to the caning, as well as four months in jail and a $2,230 fine. He is serving his sentence in Singapore’s Queenway Remand prison.
Fay’s father, George Fay, said in a telephone interview from Ohio that while four strokes of the rattan cane is obviously better than six, he doubted that the decision will help mitigate the damage to Singapore’s image caused by the sentence.
“It’s a lame attempt to somehow pacify the United States and enforce what I believe to be unacceptable punishment for a crime not committed,” Fay said. “I’m more furious than I was before.”
The Singapore statement said the government could not exempt Fay from the caning “without undermining its ability to enforce future caning ordered by the Courts.”
But the statement said Singapore values good relations with the United States and especially America’s economic and security role in the region. It praised Clinton, who has appealed for clemency, for saying that Americans overseas must respect the laws of other nations.
“To reject his appeal totally would show an unhelpful disregard for the President and the domestic pressures on him on this issue,” the unusual government statement said. “Therefore, even though the Cabinet found no merit in Fay’s petition, it sought a way to accommodate President Clinton’s appeal without compromising the principle that persons convicted of vandalism must be caned.”
The announcement means that the caning can now take place at any time. The government issued a statement Tuesday night saying that prisoners are given no advance notice when the punishment will be carried out and are informed only on the morning of the caning.
Fay’s family, supported by the U.S. government, sought clemency on the grounds that he is young and a first-time offender. The family also argued that he suffers from a neurological disorder called attention deficit disorder, which could lead to severe problems, possibly suicide, if the caning is carried out.
It also maintained that Fay was singled out because he is an American, since the punishment has never been applied in a case of damage to private property. Fay’s family also maintains that he and a number of other youths arrested in the case were coerced into confessing their involvement by being slapped, punched and mistreated by police. The government has denied the charges.
In an effort to play down the effects of the flogging, the government released a statement Sunday saying that caning “does not cause ‘skin and flesh to fly’ as alleged by critics.” It conceded, however, that it causes “bruises and marks.”
The Fay case has become an international sensation, dominating talk shows and editorial pages. Many Americans frustrated by crime in the United States have written in support of the sentence, while some commentators have likened the punishment to torture.
The statement today is clearly an effort to back away from a confrontation with the United States over the Fay case, although it is unclear if it will succeed in appeasing many critics of the system here.
In a speech today, Foreign Minister Shanmugam Jayakumar said the issue is not the caning but a broader one, “whether a country should not respect the right of another country to enact and enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, even though one may disagree with that law, so long as such law is applied without discrimination and after due process of law.”