On 19 August 2020, Yuen Ye-Ming, a young British male, was caned in Singapore’s Changi prison for supplying drugs to friends.
Yuen who grew up in London, relocated to Singapore when he was 17. In 2016, he was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and supplying others to support his own drug habit. In 2018, he was again arrested for similar offences whilst on bail, triggering mandatory ‘enhanced’ punishments under Singaporean law. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane – the highest number of strokes legally permissible at any one time.
Yuen appealed his sentence to the Court of Appeal, where he represented himself at the hearing. This appeal was dismissed in November 2018. While diplomatic representations were made at the highest levels, Yuen’s request to the President for clemency was also refused.
Yuen applied to the Court of Appeal for a second time on the basis that his case raised important questions of public interest. This application was dismissed on 12 August 2020, and within the week, Yuen’s sentence was carried out. Strapped naked to an A-frame, he was caned across his bare buttocks with a 4ft rod, receiving all 24 strokes at once. Correctional officers are alleged to have taken turns so that they didn’t tire and each stroke could be inflicted as forcefully as possible to cause maximum pain.
The British Government has strongly condemned the sentence.
Amanda Clift-Matthews, In House Counsel, says:
Corporal punishment is a cruel and inhuman practice by international law standards, and arguably violates the UN Convention on Torture. Singapore prides itself on being one of the safest places in the world to live but at what cost to human dignity? The right to freedom from torture and inhuman treatment is fundamental to any civilised society.
Elysa Yuen, Ye-Ming’s sister, describes the family’s agony:
“We are an upstanding, religious family and certainly don’t advocate the use of drugs…We are not excusing Ming’s behaviour…but isn’t a 20-year prison sentence punishment enough? Anyone who doesn’t think [caning] is barbaric can’t be human. I don’t think anyone should be subjected to physical torture.”
Notes to editors
The Death Penalty Project provided legal assistance to Yuen and his local lawyer Ravi s/o Madasamy (Carson Law Chambers). Edward Fitzgerald QC (Doughty Street Chambers) was also instructed pro bono, in this matter.