Michael P. Fay
|Michael P. Fay|
May 30, 1975 |
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
|Penalty||four months in jail
four strokes of the cane
|Parents||George and Randy Fay|
Michael Peter Fay (born May 30, 1975) is an American who briefly gained international attention when he was sentenced to caning in Singapore as an 18-year-old in 1994 for theft and vandalism. Caning is a routine court sentence in Singapore but most Americans were unfamiliar with it, and Fay's case was believed to be the first caning involving an American citizen.
The number of cane strokes in his sentence was reduced from six to four after U.S. officials requested leniency.
Early life 
||This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. (March 2012)|
Michael Fay was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His mother Randy divorced his father George when he was eight. In his childhood, Michael was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a fact that his lawyer would later claim made Fay not responsible for his actions.
Although Fay mostly lived with his natural father after the divorce, he later moved to Singapore to live with his mother and his stepfather, Marco Chan. Michael was enrolled in the Singapore American School.
Theft and vandalism 
The Straits Times in 1993 ran stories about car vandalism in Singapore. Unknown individuals, thought at first to be residents of the HDB apartments in which 85% of the local population lives, damaged their neighbors' cars with hot tar, paint remover, and hatchets. Taxi drivers complained that their tires were slashed. In the city center and the condos, cars were found with deep scratches and dents. One man interviewed by the Straits Times complained that he had to refinish his car six times in six months. In the fall of 1993 a vandal took red spray paint to six cars in a garage off Orchard Lane, making the vandalism highly visible. The next night someone sprayed a line of red paint right through the official seal of a judge's car that had been left out on the street.
The police eventually arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Andy Shiu Chi Ho from Hong Kong. He was not caught vandalizing cars, but was charged with driving his father's car without a license. After questioning Shiu, the police questioned several expatriate students from the Singapore American School, including Michael Fay, and later charged them with more than fifty counts of vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty to vandalizing the cars in addition to stealing road signs. He later maintained that he was advised that such a plea would preclude caning and that his confession was false, that he never vandalized any cars, and that the only crime he committed was stealing signs. Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of political graffiti and which specifically covered vandalism of government property, he was sentenced on March 3, 1994 to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singapore dollars (US$2,214 or £1,514 at the time), and six strokes of the cane. Shiu, who pleaded not guilty, was eventually sentenced to eight months in prison and 12 strokes of the cane.
Fay's lawyers appealed, arguing that the Vandalism Act provided caning only for indelible forms of graffiti vandalism and that the spray-painted cars were cheaply restored to their original condition. Although the appeal failed, Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay's caning from six to four strokes as a gesture of respect toward US President Bill Clinton, who had made a request for clemency on Fay's behalf. (Shiu's sentence was later also reduced, from 12 strokes to six, after a clemency appeal to the Singapore President.)
Response from the United States 
The official position of the United States government was that while it recognized Singapore's right to try to punish Fay with due process of law, it deemed the punishment of caning to be excessive for a teenager committing a non-violent crime. The United States embassy in Singapore pointed out that the graffiti damage that Fay made on the cars was not permanent, but caning would leave Fay with physical as well as long-term emotional scars.
Then U.S. President Bill Clinton called the punishment extreme and mistaken, continuing to pressure the Singaporean government to grant Fay clemency from caning. Two dozen U.S. Senators signed a letter to the Singaporean government also appealing for clemency. After Fay's punishment was carried out, the United States Trade Representative said that he would try to prevent the World Trade Organization's first ministerial meeting from taking place in Singapore. The Singaporean government pointed out that Singaporeans who break the law faced the same punishments as Fay. The Ministry of Home Affairs claimed that Singapore's laws had kept the city free of vandalism or violence of the kind seen in New York. Singapore national newspaper The Straits Times criticized "interference" by the U.S. government and found it surprising that the President had found time to become involved, given the various foreign-policy and other crises it was facing.
Following Fay's sentence, the case received wide coverage by the U.S. and world media and dozens of reporters were sent to Singapore to cover the case. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times ran editorials and op-eds condemning the punishment. Some of the coverage was factually incorrect: for instance, Newsday carried an interview with a person who claimed to have witnessed a public caning in Singapore, despite the fact that Singapore has never carried out judicial canings in public. Some commentaries treated the Michael Fay affair as a clash of civilizations between Asian values and the differing view of human rights common in liberal Western cultures.
The extent of public opposition to the caning within the United States is unclear, as opinion polls produced by different news organizations contradicted each other. Nevertheless, a significant number of vocal Americans were in favor of the caning with the reasoning that Singapore had a right to use corporal punishment if it chooses, or that the United States did not mete out severe enough punishment to its own juvenile offenders. Others pointed out that once Americans go abroad they are subject to the laws and penal codes of whatever country they visit. The embassy of Singapore to the United States said it received "a flood of letters" from Americans strongly supporting Fay's punishment, and some polls showed a majority of Americans favored it. An article written by a US based policy creator, Chandra Venugopal, in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin on August 7 1994 supports this.
Immediately on his release from prison in June 1994, Fay returned to the United States to live with his biological father. He gave several television interviews, including one for no fee (together with his US lawyer) on CNN with Larry King on June 29, 1994, in which he admitted taking road signs but denied vandalizing cars. In this interview, a transcript of which is online, he also claimed that he was ill-treated during questioning, and described his caning and its results in detail. He explained why he had shaken hands with the caning operative after his four strokes had been administered.
It was also in this interview that Fay revealed that, at the end of his punishment, his buttocks were bleeding only slightly, that he needed no immediate medical treatment, and that he was able to walk, albeit with "a lot of pain".
This, together with the information that Fay sat down when he met a U.S. consular official the day after his caning, contrasts with some of the more lurid descriptions of Singapore caning ("bits of flesh fly with each stroke", etc.) that had been carried in the Western press after the sentence was first announced. These had been taken from descriptions (originally derived from a 1974 press conference) of a much larger number of strokes than Michael Fay was ever going to receive for his relatively minor offense, compared with the maximum of 24 strokes that can be ordered for crimes such as rape and robbery.
While there was talk of a book or movie deal (neither of which ever materialized), Fay maintained that he would never sell his story for profit. Later in 1994, Fay suffered burns to his hands and face after a butane incident. He was subsequently admitted to the Hazelden rehabilitation program for butane abuse. He claimed that sniffing butane "made him forget what happened in Singapore." In 1996, he was cited in Florida for a number of violations, including careless driving, reckless driving, not reporting a crash and having an open bottle of alcohol in a car. Later, in 1998, still in Florida, Fay was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, charges to which he confessed but was not found guilty because of technical errors in his arrest.
In June 2010 his case was mentioned again in international news with another high-profile Singapore vandalism case involving a foreigner, Swiss IT consultant Oliver Fricker, who was sentenced to five months in jail and three strokes of the cane.
- Charles P. Wallace (March 9, 1994). "Singapore Blasts Back at Clinton in Caning Case". Los Angeles Times.
- Tan Ooi Boon (October 7, 1993). "9 foreign students held for vandalism". The Straits Times (Singapore). p. 1.
- Philip Shenon (March 16, 1994). "A Flogging Sentence Brings a Cry of Pain in U.S.". The New York Times.
- "Cane teen says he's innocent", Daily News, New York, June 22, 1994.
- Alejandro Reyes, "Rough Justice: A Caning in Singapore Stirs Up a Fierce Debate About Crime And Punishment", Asiaweek, Hong Kong, May 25, 1994.
- Charles P. Wallace, "Ohio Youth to be Flogged in Singapore", Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1994.
- Ian Stewart, "Flogging for vandal", South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), April 22, 1994.
- Elena Chong, "Fay loses appeal", The Straits Times, Singapore, April 1, 1994
- William Branigin, "Singapore Reduces American's Sentence", Washington Post, May 5, 1994.
- Philip Serwell and Patricia Wilson, "'Mistake' says Clinton as American is caned", Daily Telegraph, London, May 6, 1994.
- Philip Shenon, "Singapore Carries Out Caning of U.S. Teenager", International Herald Tribune, Paris, May 6, 1994.
- Karen Fawcett (9 March 1994). "Americans in Singapore condemn caning for teen". USA Today (Washington D.C.).
- Rocco Parascandola (August 1994). "Singapore Hosts Some Most Unruly Guests". American Journalism Review.
- "What US columnists say about Fay's caning". The Straits Times (Singapore). April 8, 1994.
- Andrea Stone, "Whipping penalty judged too harsh -- by some", USA Today, Washington, March 10, 1994.
- Mike Royko, "Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal", Daily News, New York, March 30, 1994.
- "Travel Advisory -- When in Rome ...", Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1994.
- David Usborne, "'Joe Public' backs caning of American", The Independent on Sunday, London, April 3, 1994.
- "The Road From Singapore", Daily News, New York, June 22, 1994.
- "Larry King Live", CNN, June 29, 1994.
- Richard Hubbard (Reuters), "Singapore says Fay recovers nicely", Washington Times, May 8, 1994.
- E.g. "Don't copy Singapore", USA Today, Washington DC, April 5, 1994.
- P.M. Raman, "Branding the Bad Hats for Life", The Straits Times, Singapore, September 13, 1974.
- "Michael Fay," People Magazine, December 26, 1994, p.60.
- "Drug Rehab For Teen Caned In Singapore," Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1994, p.14.
- "The Nation," USA Today, Washington DC, September 29, 1994, p.03A.
- "Teen Punished In Singapore Has Drug Habit - Michael Fay Was Sniffing Butane," Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 29, 1994, p.A24.
- "Q&A," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 13, 2003, p.B2.
- "Boy Caned in Singapore Makes News Again," Christian Science Monitor, Boston, April 9, 1998, p.18.
- "Drug Charges Dropped," Asiaweek, Hong Kong, June 29, 1998, p.1.
- "Graffiti man faces Singapore caning". BBC News Online (London). 25 June 2010.
Further reading 
- Latif, Asad (1994). The Flogging of Singapore: The Michael Fay Affair. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 981-204-530-9
- Baratham, Gopal (1994). The Caning of Michael Fay. Singapore: KRP Publication. ISBN 981-00-5747-4
- Reyes, Alejandro (May 25, 1994). Rough Justice: A Caning in Singapore Stirs Up a Fierce Debate About Crime And Punishment, Asiaweek, Hong Kong.
- The Asiaweek Newsmap (April 27, 1994). Asiaweek.
- Chew, Valerie (August 5, 2009). "Michael Fay", Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.