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.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Smiling and waving to the cameras like a celebrity, Michael Fay was released from prison Tuesday after gaining worldwide notoriety as the first American ever flogged in Singapore.

"I'm happy to be out," Fay, 19, said after his release. "My health is good. I'm looking forward to the future very much. I'm looking forward to going back to my country."

Fay served two months and 21 days of a four-month jail sentence handed down in March after entering a guilty plea to spray-painting cars and other acts of vandalism. He was released early for good behavior.

He was initially sentenced to receive six strokes of a rattan cane as part of his punishment, but the government reduced the penalty to four strokes as a gesture to President Clinton. The caning, carried out May 5, became the focus of a worldwide debate about crime and punishment.

Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Lone Wolf," Fay visited the U.S. Embassy after his release to discuss his case with U.S. officials. He spoke briefly with journalists but would not answer questions.

His mother, Randy Chan, said he would not speak openly until he arrives in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, with his father. George Fay flew in from the United States for the release. They left Singapore this morning.

Chan, who has lived in Singapore for two years with her second husband, told The Times on Monday that her son is "very excited and a little scared about what's waiting for him."

She said Michael "hasn't been able to look at himself" since the caning, meaning he could not bring himself to look at wounds from the caning, which has left some prisoners with scars.

Fay gave no indication Tuesday whether he had suffered permanent injury.

Chan said the family has been approached by media outlets to sell its story but had not made any deals.

Fay was a senior at the Singapore American School, a $10,000-a-year private school attended mainly by the children of Americans working here, when he was arrested in October. He was forced to drop out of school.

George Fay has been a vocal critic of the government's handling of his son's case, suggesting that the youth was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit and that he had been given hints that he would be let off without a flogging if he pleaded guilty.

The Singapore government has vociferously denied the allegations--which resurfaced Tuesday, along with new discussions of Fay's Jewish heritage.

His father told the Associated Press he is Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, and this "struck a chord in Israel," where human rights campaigners were among young Fay's most fervent supporters. The teen-ager repaid the favor by giving his only interview to Israeli radio.

"I was smacked in the face," Fay said in the telephone interview. "My hair was pulled. I was actually pulled out of my chair by the hair. I was hit on the head with one of the officer's knuckles."

Fay confirmed a government report that he shook the hand of the jailer who flogged him, saying the man was only doing his job.

The youth's father said that his son, while jailed, had pondered his Jewish background, which, he said, the family had barely discussed.

Michael Fay read "Schindler's List," giving his father a copy and saying he had underlined parts he wanted to discuss further.

"Half the book is underlined," the Associated Press quoted the father as saying.

While caning is common here, the U.S. Embassy said Fay was the first person ever caned for vandalizing private property.

The U.S. government, including Clinton, has maintained that Fay was unfairly singled out.

The elder Fay said outside Queenstown Remand Prison that "this is no time for a celebration. We are going to pick up our lives and get back to semi-normal, whatever that means."

Controversy about the case continues to mar relations between Singapore and the United States, formerly close allies. Singapore has been striving to host the first meeting of the World Trade Organization that was established this year, but U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor has expressed opposition to the choice and hinted that the caning was the reason.

Fay's punishment was hotly debated in the United States, with many crime-weary Americans coming out in support of caning and others denouncing the punishment as a form of torture.

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