A diplomatic row between longtime allies Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK) has transpired over the caning of a UK citizen found guilty of repeat drug trafficking offences in Singapore.
London-born Ye Ming Yuen, 31, was caned 24 strokes on Wednesday (19 Aug) at Changi Prison.
Caning in Singapore is mandatory in dozens of offences, including attempted murder and rape, for medically fit men aged 16 to 50.
During prison floggings, the inmate is stripped naked and strapped to a wooden flogging frame and caned with an approximately 121cm-long rattan cane.
The punishment was carried out a week after Yuen lost his final appeal against the sentence.
The former Singapore club DJ is also serving a 20-year jail sentence for seven drug-related offences.
On Tuesday night (18 Aug), the UK Foreign Office denounced the verdict after office officials made requests on Yuen’s behalf prior to the caning.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt called for leniency over the judicial corporal punishment. Mr Hunt first raised the issue with Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan when he visited Singapore in January 2019.
In a statement, the British High Commission in Singapore also said: “The UK strongly opposes corporal punishment in all circumstances and condemns its use in this case.”
However, a spokesman for the Singapore High Commission in London has previously told British newspaper the Daily Mail: “Singapore deals with the drug problem comprehensively with the strictest enforcement coupled with the severest of penalties to protect the welfare of the public and our collective aspiration to live and raise our children in a safe oasis.”
Yuen’s lawyer M Ravi says “barbaric punishment serves no purpose except physical harm”
Yuen’s lawyer Ravi Madasamy, better known as M Ravi who is also a human rights activist, took to Facebook on Thursday (20 Aug) to chastise this corporal punishment.
He said his client has already pleaded guilty, and asked: “What purpose does this barbaric punishment serve except to cause physical harm with blood spurting out and flesh being ripped off, potentially causing harm to the kidney, spine and causing erectile dysfunction?”
Mr Ravi added that caning was abolished in India in 1953 as this colonial practice was “condemned by the Indian Parliament as being cruel, inhumane and degrading”.
He defended another drug trafficker, Yong Vui Kong, who was apprehended with 47.27g of heroin on him in 2015.
“I challenged this very aspect in the Court of Appeal in 2015 when I acted for Yong,” Mr Ravi added.
The lawyer said Yuen does not want this brutal and anachronistic practice of caning him to go in vain. Mr Ravi affirmed in his social media post that he will continue the campaign against caning alongside fellow human rights advocates in Singapore.
Yuen wrote two letters to the courts to appeal against the caning; both were rejected
In his first letter written on 3 August, Yuen said it is difficult for him to “picture (himself) as the recalcitrant criminal (he is) painted to be”.
He said that this is all part of growing up when one sees “the taboo, to rebel, to experiment”.
“I think for people my age, a very big problem is that we don’t really see the harm caused by, say, smoking a spliff, or taking a pill. To us (and to be very frank) drugs are fun, until they are not.”
Yuen added that he is a proponent of “a campaign of honesty and frankness to dissuade the young from falling into a cycle of addiction” which he felt was “the root of social problems caused by drugs”.
After this legal appeal was rejected by the Singaporean courts last week, Yuen wrote another letter on 6 August and asked for it to be delivered through Mr Ravi.
“What I am fighting for is not only my own future, but for the conservation of corporal dignity and for the unwavering belief that in any civilised society, violence has no place where the disposal of justice is concerned,” he began.
“Are we in favour of a system where the blood of the wayward is demanded to grease the wheels of justice … that demands the pain, humiliation and debasement of those who fall foul of the law? Or do we believe justice can exist without degradation, without the violation of the human body?” he asked.
Yuen then talked about Winston Churchill who once said “a society could be judged by the way it treats its prisoners” and that the former Prime Minister of the UK felt “no human being deserves to be treated this way”.
In his conclusion, he said that “it may be too late and too bad for me, but it is not, and never will be too late, for posterity to benefit from (the Singapore courts’) compassion”.
First arrested in Singapore in August 2016; was caught using again while out on bail
Yuen was a preparatory student who attended the Dulwich Prep School in south London. He then moved on to the prestigious Westminster School – which costs close to S$74,000 a year in school fees – situated next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
At 17, he moved to Singapore to live with his mother’s family after his father, a marketing consultant from China and a Singapore-born marketing executive, fell into bankruptcy over a bad investment.
In August 2016, Yuen was first arrested over drug offences when he was searched by police while walking in a park.
He claimed the drugs were for him and his wealthy expatriate friends on the club scene.
He was then convicted of offences which included two counts of ‘repeat drug trafficking’ – one of 69g and one of 60g of cannabis.
Another offence was when he was caught again with drugs on him while out on bail.
This additional offence of drug trafficking 15g of crystal meth got him maximum caning and maximum sentence.
The capital charge was dropped because the net weight of the drugs involved was less than 500g.
Not his first crime; was wanted by Scotland Yard over forgery scam in 2007
In 2007 before he left for Singapore, it was revealed that Yuen was wanted by the London Metropolitan Police’s headquarters, Scotland Yard, over an alleged forged driving licences scam.
He reportedly sold the driving licences to other pupils to buy alcohol and cigarettes.