Caning in Singapore

I. DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

It established, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected — a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.

Article 5 of the UDHR states:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report stated the following:

Singapore took steps to roll back the mandatory death penalty, but [laws] on arbitrary detention and judicial caning remained.

Judicial caning — a practice amounting to torture or other ill-treatment — continued as a punishment for a wide range of criminal offences.

Source: AI Annual Report 2013 (PDF)

In Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, healthy males under 50 years of age can be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the rattan cane on the bare buttocks; the punishment is mandatory for many offences, mostly violent or drug crimes, but also immigration violations. The punishment is applied to both foreigners and locals.

It seems to take a certain lack of empathy to uphold judicial caning as something which doesn’t violate Article 5 of the UDHR.

I have gathered a few quotations from around the web on the severity of this method of corporal punishment.

caning_singapore

Asiaweek May 1994 | Corpun.com

II. CANING

(1) “Singapore canings are brutal. A martial artist strikes the offender’s bare buttocks with a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain. The loss of blood is considerable and often results in shock. Corporal punishment is not necessary to achieve public order, even in Singapore. Other countries do not employ corporal punishment, yet their streets are relatively free of random violence. There are also principled reasons for opposing corporal punishment.”
(~ Jerome H. Skolnick, LA Times)

(2) “Could it be that unkindness is all that [people] see from leaders and they therefore equate that with power over others? Rather like abused children who become abusers themselves, abused citizens are just as likely to do the same. It is totally weird logic to say that violence in the form of draconian laws is the only way to ensure stability.”
(~ Marina Mahathir)

(3) “No matter how heinous the crime, you do not descend to the level of barbarity of the perpetrator. . .An eye for an eye is ancient philosophy replaced by more enlightened ideas and ideals, discarded by civilized societies long ago. Caning is mutilation. Mutilation is wrong. It is barbaric. You do not overcome barbarism by descending to barbarism.”
(~ Richard at The Peking Duck)

(4) “Ravi said that academic consensus has conclusively proved, contrary to what the government claimed, that judicial caning has little to no effect on deterrence.”
(~ Ariffin Sha, TOC)

(5) “State-employed doctors also play an integral role in caning. They examine victims and certify their fitness to be caned. When victims lose consciousness during caning, they revive them so the punishment can continue. After caning, some victims suffer long-term physical disabilities.”
(~ Torture in widespread caning)

(6) “The role that doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics. Instead of treating the victims, doctors are assisting in their torture and ill-treatment.”
(~ Sam Zarifi, A Blow to Humanity)

(7) “Doctors are duty bound to ‘do no harm’. . .We will support all doctors who refuse to participate in any way as witnesses and medical examiners whenever the state carries out an execution or judicial caning. Let not the government say that it is carrying out all these inhuman and inhumane practices on behalf of the people and with their support. It is certainly not done in my name.”
(~ Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility)

(8) “Caning used to be reserved for violent offenders, but Singapore’s dominant political leader Lee Kuan Yew extended caning to cover vandalism during an epidemic of political graffiti from the opposition. I know personally of people who prefer to serve a longer term of imprisonment than to undergo the sentence of caning.”
(~ Francis Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore | NPR Radio 1994)

(9) “He’ll be caned. Who cares? Michael Fay faces a humiliating and agonising caning in Singapore, and many of his fellow Americans think he deserves everything that’s coming to him. Peter Pringle argues that crime has distorted a nation’s perception of human rights.”
(~ The Independent UK, April 1994)

(10) “I was told by some of the inmates that the screams of the victims after each stroke of the whip makes one lose all appetite for food. Caning in Singapore is a barbaric act.”
(~ Chee Soon Juan, Pg-257 of Democratically Speaking)

(11) “In 2012 the courts sentenced 2,500 persons to judicial caning, and 2,203 caning sentences were carried out; including 1,070 foreigners caned for committing immigration offenses.”

Note: According to those numbers, this amounts to an average of ~42 people caned per week.
(~ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Singapore Report 2013)

* * *

III. FUNDAMENTALLY CIVILIZED

For some contrast — this is how a country like Norway handles crime:

(1) “Norway tries to address the causes of criminal behavior. . .I do feel that it is better to prevent future crimes by solving the underlying issues.”
(~ Comment by kraznodar)

(2) “Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution. . .Bjorn Magnus Ihler, who survived the Utoya shootings, said that Norway’s treatment of Mr. Breivik was a sign of a fundamentally civilized nation.”
(~ Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years, NY Times)

(3) “Treating drug addicts like medical patients rather than criminals is not only more humane, but more effective and cheaper. Maybe we should broaden that logic to include treating prisoners as humanely as possible as well.”
(~ Erik Kain, Forbes)

(4) Under the c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment section in the 2013 State.gov report on the human rights situation in Norway:

“In May two Oslo police officers were filmed examining a suspected drug dealer’s mouth and throat with a thin telescoping metal baton. In response to media reports and inquiries from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Oslo Police stated that such actions were legal. An earlier assessment by the Police University found the actions to be questionable since health personnel must conduct all bodily searches. The police launched an internal investigation and banned the use of the baton for mouth searches.”

I hope Singapore moves toward some…positive reform with its human rights situation in future.

After all, the National Pledge states that progress for the nation is a goal, and that should not mean economic progress at the expense of social progress.

* * *

More Information:

(1) Document – Singapore rejects calls to end death penalty and caning (Amnesty; 2011)

(2) Singapore’s Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ThatBoyHuman; 2014)

(3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations)

(4) UN Declaration on the Right to Development (United Nations)

(5) Human Rights (Wikipedia)


In Conversation–Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir (2012)

This post is about two years overdue, although the experience of the event is still fresh in my mind :)

I was involved with a couple of events during the 2012 Singapore Writers Festival.

At the time, I circled a number of programmes in my SWF booklet, since I wanted to attend as many of the events as I could.

One that I thoroughly enjoyed was a panel with Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir. This despite the fact that I had largely been a politically indifferent and apathetic youth when I was growing up in Singapore.

This was the text which described the programme:

“Marina Mahathir in Conversation with Catherine Lim”
Sun 4 Nov | 2.30pm – 3.30pm

Two of our region’s leading writers and social commentators, sometimes controversial, always engaging, talk about what it means to use the written word to engage in civic society. How do they deal with naysayers and critics, and what keeps them awake at night?

These were their bios in the SWF 2012 booklet.

Marina Mahathir (Malaysia) | 2012 SWF Programme

Marina Mahathir writes a fortnightly column on social issues in an English-language Malaysia daily, is an avid blogger, is active on Facebook and Twitter, and is also a television and film producer. She writes and speaks regularly on human rights, particularly where it relates to gender issues, Islam and HIV/AIDS. One to walk the talk, Marina was president of the Malaysian AIDS Council from 1993 to 2005, and currently sits on the board of Sisters in Islam, which advocates justice and equality for Muslim women. She is the daughter of the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Mohammad.

Catherine Lim (Singapore) | 2012 SWF Programme

Well-known and outspoken Singaporean author Catherine Lim has more than 20 titles to her credit — from short stories to novels, reflective prose and poetry, and satirical pieces. Her works deal largely with the East-West divide, Asian culture, women’s issues, and Singapore’s culture, history and politics. She has won national and regional book prizes and was conferred n honorary doctorate in literature by Murdoch University, Australia, and was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information.

Here’s a photograph I took with each of these dynamic ladies at the end of the discussion. I don’t know how I managed to grab a pic as it was all done in a rush, but I’m glad I did!

marina_mahathir

With Marina Mahathir at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

catherine lim

With Catherine Lim at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

I remember being very engaged by these two speakers when they first stepped into the room that day. My immediate impression (before each of them actually began to be “in conversation” with the other) was that they were both very smiley and energetic, with a good sense of style.

Both of these speakers were/are incredibly vibrant and passionate about politics, civic engagement, and the subject of human rights. Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. There were several quips that seemed to stray across OB “out of bounds” Markers, as evidenced by the entire audience gasping — or laughing — spontaneously.

The room was so packed that people were standing by the sides and the back of the room.

Halfway through the discussion, a middle-aged woman in the audience started to ramble when she asked a question (a mic was given to her — maybe this was during the QnA portion of the talk). She got increasingly aggressive with her tone and one of the questions she directed to the speakers was:

“Where were you academics when Singapore needed its academics/intellectuals to [speak up]?”

If I remember correctly, what she was saying was in reference to Operation Spectrum or Coldstore, neither of which I was aware of at the time due to my aforementioned woeful teenage political unawareness.

Catherine Lim was responding sincerely even as the woman interrupted her. The festival director informed the audience member in a calm but stern way that they were to “maintain the peace” (not in those exact words, but to that effect) which was a responsible and respectful way of handling the situation so as to prevent any chaotic or ugly outcome.

That incident made me feel quite nervous (I was wondering how the guest speakers on the panel would answer, with a full-house audience looking on). Part of me also felt surprised at how passionate people could be, which was a world of difference from a climate of political slumber where people are too indifferent or fearful to be involved in any way. I remember thinking that the incident would probably never be reported in The Straits Times (please feel free to correct me if there was indeed a mention of it in the local mainstream media).

Throughout the conversation, what was most evident was these ladies’ razor-sharp intelligence, combined with their poise, diplomacy, and lack of arrogance. The combination of these qualities made an inspiring and refreshing impression on me — along with many other members in the audience, I’m sure.

Maybe I felt compelled to attend the event due to my (at the time) latent interest in socio-political issues. I am thankful I had the chance to.

It was nice to see how crowded the room was. The full-house attendance challenged the notion that local Singaporeans are a perennially politically disengaged, apathetic lot.


To Singapore, With Love

singapore_withlove

Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love, a documentary featuring Singaporean political exiles, will not be allowed for public screening. The Media Development Authority (MDA) said the film “undermined national security.”

The biggest feeling in response I have to the MDA’s statement is disappointment. As a person with a functioning brain, and a person who was born in and grew up in Singapore, I also feel insulted with the MDA’s official stance on the matter.

This isn’t a fictitious movie that depicts a disrespectful portrayal of Singapore’s people or its culture. It is a documentary that includes content pertaining to certain “periods in Singapore’s history that are fraught with controversy.”

A documentary is defined as follows: “A movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report.”

It is sad and shameful that Singaporeans are not being allowed to hear these people’s side of the story.

Are Singaporeans too dumb to handle the facts? Can they not be trusted to make their own conclusions from a variety of sources?

Why continue to hide and keep things covered up, when there is, according to PM Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 New Year Message, a “clean and transparent system of governance”?

As Alex Au wrote in his blog post, “Trust can never be restored by concealment and gagging. Only openness will do.”

Historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin had this to say via a Facebook status update:

“In its statement, MDA said it had assessed the contents of the film, and decided that it undermined national security. It added that legitimate actions taken by security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are distorted as acts that victimised innocent individuals.”

The MDA’s statement is wrong. Research has proven that the primary aim of Operation Coldstore and other instances of repression was to remove political opposition to the Singapore government. If the MDA disagrees, they should ask the ISD to release documentary proof and allow us historians to revise our research. Having seen this film last week, the one thing that all the interviewees have in common is a deep, abiding love for Singapore. This movie reinforces national security by demonstrating the deep loyalty and commitment of Singaporeans to Singapore, even those forced unjustly into exile.

People deserve to know the facts pertaining to their own country’s history.

I, for one, always appreciate facts from sources other than watered-down, sanitised social studies textbooks which sometimes present only one side of the story.

UPDATE #1: There is a Google form set up by the film and art community to collate more signatories in support of this film. More information on Google and Facebook.

UPDATE #2:

Tan Wah Piow’s statement on the banning of the film:

To ban the film would be an infringement to Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution which protects the freedom of expression. The only way to circumvent Article 14 of the Constitution is to invoke the security threat mantra. This would be implausible in any democratic country where the rule of law interprets “security threat” only in the strictest and narrowest sense.

But Singapore is a different story. That is why the Cabinet has to be very highly paid, because our ministers and Prime Minister are very clever.

But the people are not stupid either. One day, the people will know who is the serial abuser of the Singapore Constitution.


Don’t tell us what is true, let us judge by opening official records

Originally posted on Yawning Bread:

pic_20140901

Here we go again. Another film banned by the Singapore government. Tan Pin Pin’s “To Singapore, With Love” will not be allowed for public screening in this god-forsaken place. In a press statement released 10 September 2014, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said the film

… undermined(d) national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals.

– MDA, 10 Sept 2014. Link

I have not seen the film myself, unlike quite a number of people at film festivals abroad

View original 749 more words


Fifty Shades: William Giraldi / Jennifer Hamady / Lily Zheng

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was working on an article about quality sexual literature.

The article is titled Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey, and can be viewed in full at the OpEdNews website:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Beyond-the-Hype-of-Fifty-S-by-Jess-C-Scott-Books_Culture_Sex_Sex-140814-381.html

The article features the expert opinions of ten professionals in the fields of academia, psychology, and media communications, who comment on the cultural implications of the series and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.

I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the first three guest contributors!

P.S. Check out Part 2 and Part 3 for the full replies of the other guests.

* * *

1. William Giraldi, professor at Boston University and Fiction Editor for AGNI:

William-Giraldis-Bunker

William Giraldi | Image from TinHouse

I’m not certain that men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Emerson once quipped that “people do not deserve good writing, they are so pleased with bad.” And I rarely disagree with Mr. Emerson. I’d tell men and women to put down these books because they are bad for their health, but people never listen to advice about their health.

Quality sexual literature can be found among the poems of Sappho and Catullus, in the satires of De Sade, and in the novels of Nicholson Baker. The Story of O and Venus in Furs are not masterpieces but they have some psychological depth and the prose isn’t toxic. I’d caution that the best sexual literature knows what to leave to the imaginative and what not.

2. Jennifer Hamady, voice coach, psychotherapist, and online columnist at Psychology Today:

jennifer-hamady

Jennifer Hamady

Thinking aloud, I don’t think the question is necessarily about whether people deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. In general I think wrong vs. right arguments aren’t the most helpful. Rather, I’d say that in our culture, which isn’t entirely open about and comfortable with sex, a book like Fifty Shades — or any book — can tend to have a more powerful influence than it might in a healthier context. I will say that the more violent aspects of the book concern me because — again — our current cultural context does not hold women on an equal footing to men (watch any music video if you need evidence). Whether or not it is intentional, the book therefore can be seen as agreeing with the idea that violence against and the subjugation of women is sexy, and even necessary for young women who want to be in relationships.

3. Lily Zheng, president of Kardinal Kink, an advocacy and support group for the kink community at Stanford University:

Stock Image from Dreamstime

(1) On whether men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey:

Fifty Shades of Grey enjoyed so much success because it talked, frankly and explicitly, about the type of sexual and sensual encounters that our society idealizes but outwardly condemns. In the existing social landscape of almost Puritan-esque opinions on sex and intimacy (sex is something that, if enjoyed at all, can only be enjoyed a certain way) the existence of Fifty Shades was disruptive and subversive in many ways. Not only the book itself, but the surprising number of men and women (women, mostly) who purchased it indicated that the book was fantasy, a fantasy that resonated especially well with its fans.

Erotic literature is necessary because it fulfills desires; erotic literature is necessary because it helps create a culture in which the sensual is more normal, in which physical intimacy is as much a diverse and varied staple as emotional intimacy.

And that precise reason is why Fifty Shades isn’t good enough.

Fifty Shades of Grey is ultimately a tale of nonconsent. As the relationships between characters develop, nonconsent becomes increasingly stamped across interaction after interaction. There is no negotiating of scenes, no establishing of hard and soft limits, not even a facsimile of the consent rituals and focus on safety that the real life kink and BDSM scenes feature. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a story that could or should happen in real life. Fifty Shades is fantasy.

To some extent, that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine for fantastical or improbable tales to exist, and many are excellent in their own right. It becomes a problem, however, when people begin to mistake fantasy for reality. People read erotica to experience it. We seek the sensual because we project ourselves into the stories we read, and envision ourselves — tied up, gagged, begging for release, our bodies burning like firebrands — through the lens of the words on the page.

We deserve erotic literature. We deserve good erotic literature. We deserve realistic erotic literature. Argue all you want the Fifty Shades is “good,” but it’s unmistakably unrealistic. Worse still, most people who read it don’t know that.

Most people who read Fifty Shades find themselves fantasizing about or imagining the nonconsensual, dangerous interactions as legitimate, as positive, as desirable. Almost every young adult (and their mother, apparently) knows the general plot of the novel.

“It’s kinky BDSM stuff, right?”

But Fifty Shades is to kink as rape is to sex; they may both look the same on the outside but the differences are fundamental, substantial, and potentially dangerous.

The inaccurate and fanciful depiction of kink in Fifty Shades of Grey hurts both the existing kink and leather communities and nonkinky people alike. The wrong type of kink is normalized by this book, and whether or not we fancy ourselves purveyors of good literature, we deserve to read better novels.

(2) On quality sexual literature:

Quality sexual literature can be enjoyed in more than one way. Quality sexual literature engages with the reader aesthetically — the prose flows well, the flow is dynamic, the descriptions are vivid in lush, practical and concise exactly where they need to be — and viscerally — the writing evokes a physical or bodily reaction from the reader, whether that reaction be sexual, sensual, or emotional. However, the best sexual literature is these two things and more: the best sexual literature is relatable.

There is a difference between imagining the abstract notion of “bondage” and being able to conceptualize the excited negotiation, the handpicking of rope, the vocalizing of desires and fears all laid out bare on the bed long before any clothing comes off. There is a difference between imagining rope on your body and understanding the meaning of the tightness on your skin, the significance behind the vulnerability, the worth of that “yes, sir!” or “yes, mistress!”

Owning Regina, a novel by Lorelei Elstrom written in diary format, is a story about kink that meets that bar. Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, there is no magic telepathy between people, no porno-levels of endurance, no “perfect” interactions or scenes, no encouraged nonconsent. Rather, this book displays kink as it is in real life: consensual, communicative, and imperfect, a dance between people.

The realism in this novel is impressive. The conflict feels real and pressing; the characters are deep, well-developed, and likeable, and most importantly, the writing tingles with that uncertain excitement that I can most accurately describe as the moment before knocking on the door of partner’s house. This is a diary — it’s not hardcore erotica, but it’s not a documentary either. It’s gritty, dirty, raw, and satisfying in a way that neither of the two are on their own.

I recommend this book because it isn’t fantasy kink. The triumphs the characters exult in are triumphs many practitioners of BDSM and kink, veterans and casual play partners alike, experience. The conflicts are conflicts everyone who has experienced kink with a partner must go through.

Kinky literature tends to be marketed towards those who have never experienced kink, with most people in actual kink communities scorning that brand of erotic literature. For that reason, when kinky literature succeeds with both kinky and nonkinky people alike, it is especially important to acknowledge and understand why.

Owning Regina is one of those few novels I have found that manage to meet the bar I have set for kinky literature.


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