[This is an amended version of the article because the original contained a few errors of fact.]
Earlier this month, it was reported in the mainstream press that a young doctor, still doing his internship, had been caught by the police for possessing drugs. Adrian Yeo was sentenced to eight months in jail.
The case made the news partly because his counsel, Kertar Singh, argued before the court that Yeo had been a victim of police entrapment, in his mitigation plea.
The police had apparently chatted up Yeo online, trying to get synthetic drugs from him. According to press reports, Yeo's initial reaction was to decline the suggestions, and it took some persistence on the part of the police before they could persuade Yeo to take along some "Ice" (methamphetamine) to a pre-arranged threesome at a hotel.
Eventually, Yeo was convicted for having 0.16g of "ice" on him, a quantity that a commentator described as one which could be blown away with a single puff.
The real issue
The issue here was entrapment. Was it ethical of the police to have invested so much persuasion to get Yeo to commit a crime? The judge simply said that entrapment was legal in Singapore. It is not clear whether the judge took this into account when passing sentence.
The position in Singapore is that at best, entrapment can only be a valid plea for mitigation, not as a defence against a charge.
I hope - but I do not know - that thinking Singaporeans would think about this because this is an important issue. Like many things in law enforcement and justice (which are different things, by the way) it is not a simple black and white matter. The difficulty lies in knowing where to draw the line.
There are some crimes where law enforcement officers need to go undercover to gather evidence, e.g. penetrating a terrorist cell or a child-trafficking syndicate. On the other hand, it would unethical for the police to go around proposing criminal acts to people to see who might be tempted. Would you have plainclothes police visiting Members of Parliament in their homes, offering them bribes over biscuits and coffee, just to see who might be interested?
Does Adrian Yeo's case come closer to the former examples or the latter?
When the police found the public raising the issue of their entrapment tactics, they defended themselves by saying that Yeo had been a known abuser and thus that there were grounds for suspicion even prior to the set-up.
It appears that the defence counsel himself had said that his client began using drugs after Yeo failed his exams the year before.
But did the police know this when they started their investigations, or did they happen to come upon Yeo through trawling the Internet? Because from what has been reported of the case in the press, it seems that it was the police who first proposed mixing drugs with sex and Yeo's first response was to decline. This is quite troubling.
If the police could tender evidence that there were pre-existing grounds to suspect Yeo of drug abuse, then that's fair. If the police were just trawling the Internet for whoever might have drugs in exchange for sex, then how would this be different from visiting all MPs' homes with a briefcase full of cash?
And is it right that entrapment is only valid for mitigation, not for defence? In some jurisdictions, evidence obtained by entrapment is considered so tainted they can't be tendered in court. Perhaps both positions are too extreme, if so, where should we draw the line?
That's what courts and the concept of an independent judiciary, are for - to ask these penetrating questions. Yet, we do not see Singapore courts fulfilling their responsibilities in this case.
Some bloggers confused too
Nor do we even see the Singapore public being able to grasp the issue clearly. Some of the "star bloggers" at the Straits Times' Stomp portal could not separate the wheat from the chaff.
Writer Ju Len wrote:
"He was already doing illegal things (Ecstasy, Ice, and Ketamine, to name but three of them) and known to be doing it, so his law-breaking could hardly be considered uncomtemplated. The police simply set up an old-fashioned sting operation to nab him, and one more drug abuser is off the streets.
"As for his ruined chances of becoming a medical doctor, I'm actually pretty glad I won't be seeing him in an examination room anytime soon, especially if it happened to be some sort of check-up that involved rubber gloves and plenty of Vaseline."
Note the homophobic smear in the second paragraph, not just of Yeo, but of all medical professionals who are gay.
And no, I have not mentioned Yeo's sexual orientation so far in this article because it had nothing to do with the case or the issue of entrapment, but obviously this Stomp blogger could not resist conflating the issues.
Another Stomp blogger, Nick Fang, could not see the difference between illegality and entrapment either. He seemed to be saying that so long as something is illegal, entrapment is always justified.
"Well I say: if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. Yes yes I agree that people shouldn't be duped into unknowingly doing something wrong and then being punished for it."
The only defence, in his view, was if one was "duped." But it's really not so simple. A crime, e.g. a bank robbery, might not have happened, if a mastermind had not schemed it. So the driver of the getaway care had a role to play, yet he would not have been driving the getaway car if the mastermind had not planned it. But what if the mastermind - the proposer of the crime - had been the police? Would it be right for the police to be plotting the commission of crimes? Would the crime have occurred if the police had not plotted it? Would the man even be driving a getaway car in the first place without the scheme being hatched?
Fang then went on:
"And while I'm of the view that gay sex (or any kind of sex for that matter) in the privacy of one's own domicile shouldn't be illegal, I think most of us would realise that getting three different kinds of banned drugs for use in a three-way would be frowned upon by most authorities.
"And if one is hoping to avoid buggery in prison of any form, as described in my blogging colleague Julen's entry, then maybe one might think twice before accepting dodgy invitations on the Internet."
It's so confused, I can't even tease out the logic. Does he mean to say that using drugs in two-way sex is not "frowned upon"?
Why the obsessive interest in "buggery"?
A third Stomp blogger, Dawn Yang, wrote,
"In my opinion, for someone to really claim unfair entrapment, I reckon he'd have to prove he was unduly and incessantly persuaded/threatened/harassed, or offered pleas based on sympathy or friendship by the play-acting police."
I would think it the other way around. It is for the police to prove that they did none of those things in order to sustain the integrity of the prosecution's case.
Her deference to authority figures can also be seen in the next bit:
"Nonetheless, I don't think the Singapore police forces would go around nabbing innocent parties this way. (I mean c'mon, this is Singapore we're talking about, NOT the USA where such cases are fairly common!) The ones our island's dutiful men-in-blue do the entrapment thing with, are the ones they have reasons to be suspicious of, and who would likely commit the crime in future anyway."
It was rightly slapped by a comment following article. The reader wrote:
"What do u mean by '(I mean c'mon, this is Singapore we're talking about, NOT the USA where such cases are fairly common!)'. You are totally ignorant and living in your "Singapore is BEST" mentality."
All these bloggers displayed a disappointing failure to make the distinction between
- authority and being right (just because someone is in authority does not mean he is right)
- legality and justice (just because something is illegal does not mean it is just to convict people under that law)
- facts of the case and irrelevant, albeit non-conformist, characteristics of the person (just because someone belongs to a different class of people does not mean that categorisation makes his crime more disgusting)
- entrapment and entrapment (sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong)
Can Singaporeans think?
It is this inability to see things critically that leaves Singapore society intellectually stunted. People do not have the thinking skills to tease out issues and ask searching questions, without bringing in all sorts of extraneous references.
The process of winning gay equality cannot thus be isolated from the broader problem of getting Singaporeans to think. Not just bloggers. Judges too. It is a long, long road.