A naturalised citizen has been sentenced to a detention of 18 months at the military detention barracks for being absent without official leave (AWOL) by the Singapore military court.
The sentenced individual, Wang Yinchu left Singapore on 8 Oct 2008 at the age of 22, just one month before completing his national service to pursue his medical studies at the University of Cambridge in Britain.
Wang became a citizen when he was 19 in 2005 and entered National Service.
Before he left for England, he had applied to Mindef for a disruption of the remaining one month of service, but this request was denied. Wang then made appeals within the SAF and through his MP, but these were rejected.
During his absence from Singapore, Wang obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from St Edmund’s College, University of Cambr0idge. He also obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London before returning to Singapore.
Six years later, he gave himself up to Immigration & Checkpoints Authority officers when he arrived back in Singapore on 2 July 2014. He was subsequently transferred to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Military Police Command.
On 8 Oct last year, Wang pleaded guilty to one count of being absent without official leave (AWOL) and was sentenced to three weeks’ detention.
However, the chief military prosecutor appealed against his sentence through the military court of appeal on 29 May and urged a stiffer sentence against Wang’s offence.
The New Paper reported that the military prosecutor Hee Mee Lin had told the court that Wang was serving with the 41st Battalion of the Singapore Armoured Regiment at Kranji Camp 2. On Oct 12, 2008, he failed to book into camp for his duties at around 11.59pm and was uncontactable after his absence was noticed by his superiors.
An earlier case was also cited where an NSF from the Singapore Civil Defence Force went AWOL for three years, two months and nine days and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
In that case, the High Court also affirmed the sentence and emphasised the need for deterrence, saying: “National Service is about one’s duty to the country, and about placing the nation’s interests above one’s own.
“It would be unfair to all national servicemen who diligently perform their national service at a personal sacrifice to themselves and their families if the appellant’s contention was accepted as a valid mitigating factor.”
The prosecution added that “the public interest involved in National Service required that servicemen be prepared to subordinate their personal interests to the interests of the state”.
Ms Hee said the three-weeks detention “manifestly inadequate” could send a message that full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) would “suffer little consequences” when they go AWOL.
Ms Hee pressed for at least 18 months’ detention as Wang had gone AWOL for five years, eight months and 20 days which was granted by Justice Choo Han Teck and four other members of the panel.
The prosecutor added in her submission that Wang contacted Mindef via its feedback unit years later to say he wanted to contact his commanding officer as he wanted to surrender himself.
Wang’s lawyer, Mr Anand Nalachandran was reported to have urged the court to dismiss the appeal, saying that his client has “repaid the… pound of flesh”.
Mr Anand added: “(Wang) asked the university for permission to matriculate later. However, the university advised him to reapply for entry the following year with no guarantee of admission.
“(Wang) was driven by the lifelong ambition to become a doctor and was desperate to retain the rare and coveted opportunity to study medicine at Cambridge.”
He also said that his client made “a desperate decision that few would endorse but many would understand” and left Singapore.
Mindef said that AWOL is a serious offence: “We will continue to take stern disciplinary action against servicemen who commit AWOL offences.”
In 2011, a letter was written to have the deferment criteria made transparent after allegations were made on son of then-Minister of Education and current Singapore President, Mr Tony Tan, to have been granted preferential treatment to defer his national service for 12 years.a letter was written to have the deferment criteria made transparent after allegations were made on son of then-Minister of Education and current Singapore President, Mr Tony Tan, to have been granted preferential treatment to defer his national service for 12 years.
In response to the letter, Mindef wrote, “…The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) grants disruption for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to obtain their medical degrees, as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has operational needs for doctors.
This is a long-standing policy and uniformly applied for all servicemen who meet the criteria. They are disrupted just before their university term begins and serve out their remaining national service (NS) liabilities soon after completion of their medical courses. Currently, about 120 NSFs are disrupted every year to study medicine locally. Prior to 1992, disruptions were also allowed for NSFs to obtain medical degrees in approved overseas universities. Our records show that 86 such disruptions have been granted. The length of disruption varied depending on the time taken to complete the medical studies. This was about five to six years for medical courses in countries such as Britain and Australia.
Longer periods were granted for those admitted to universities in the United States, where medicine is a graduate course. Medical students there are required to complete a pre-medical component for a general undergraduate degree before being accepted for the Doctor of Medicine course proper. Upon their return to the SAF, medical graduates are deployed according to the needs of the SAF and the qualifications of the NSF. From 1992, Mindef stopped disruption for overseas medical studies as SAF’s needs for doctors could be fully met by local graduates.”
Absence without leave under the Singapore Statues
(1) Every person subject to military law who is absent without leave from service in the Singapore Armed Forces or from the place where he is lawfully required for the time being to be shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction by a subordinate military court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or any less punishment authorised by this Act.
(2) It shall be a defence for any person charged under this section to prove that his absence was a result of circumstances over which he had no control.