A 24-year-old Thai national who defaulted on his national service (NS) obligations in Singapore was fined $6,000 at the State Courts on Tuesday (18 September).
Ekawit Tangtrakarn, who was a Singapore citizen until he was 22, was born and raised in Bangkok but returned to Singapore to face the charges against him on 20 July 2016.
In sentencing Ekawit, District Judge John Ng said that a jail sentence was “not warranted in this case”. He also noted Ekawit’s early admission to the charges faced and his early surrender as mitigating factors.
“He was born in Thailand and was first and foremost a Thai national or citizen before anything else. He did not fail to return to Singapore since Singapore was neither his homeland nor his country of domicile,” said the judge.
He added that Ekawit had only made visits to Singapore and had never applied for, or been issued with, a Singaporean identity card.
“In the case before me, there is no question of Ekawit evading his NS obligations. There is no question of him putting his personal goals and pursuits ahead of his liability to serve his nation.
“The only nation which he had known and reasonably expected to pledge his allegiance to is Thailand, where he was born and raised and had served his national service in the Royal Thai Army,” said DJ Ng.
The prosecution had sought for nine weeks’ jail for Ekawit, while the defence had asked for a “hefty fine” instead.
Speaking on behalf of Ekawit’s mother outside the court, Ekawit’s lawyer S Radakrishnan said that she was thankful to the judge for the “fairness he has shown”.
He added that the family wishes to return to Thailand as soon as possible once Ekawit’s passport is released so that he can resume his job as an engineer at an air-conditioning company.
Registered overseas as a Singapore citizen
Yahoo News Singapore first reported that Ekawit pleaded guilty last month to one count of remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit between 17 April 2010 and 16 October 2015. Another similar charge, for the period between 17 October 2006 and 16 April 2010, was taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Ekawit, whose mother, Genevieve Lim, is Singaporean and father is Thai, was registered as a Singapore citizen at the age of one by his mother. He later served three years in the Royal Thai Army and graduated from Thammasat University Bangkok.
Ekawit was stripped of his Singapore citizenship in 2015, when he failed to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty within 12 months from the age of 21 as is required under Singapore’s Constitution.
This makes his case the first of its kind in which an NS defaulter coming back to face charges is not liable for NS at the time of the charges as he was no longer a Singapore citizen or permanent resident by that point.
During the court hearing on 28 August, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Mansoor Amir said that Lim had been in contact with the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) regarding her son’s enlistment issues. CMPB is the unit under the Ministry of Defence that oversees NS enlistees.
When her son was seven years old, Lim flew to Singapore and informed CMPB that her son wished to renounce his Singapore citizenship but she was told that he could only do so at the age of 21.
Lim later informed Ekawit that he was no longer able to travel to Singapore to visit his relatives like he used to because of his NS issues.
Ekawit had been aware of his NS obligations since he was 13 years old and had also been advised on two occasions to return, but he chose to pursue his university studies instead, said the DPP then.
At the same hearing, Ekawit’s lawyer Radakrishnan said that apart from short visits to his grandmother in Singapore, Ekawit had never lived in Singapore.
While Ekawit had been in possession of a Singapore passport over two periods until the age of 13, he travelled mainly on his Thai passport, with the exception of one occasion. This was when he presented his Singapore passport while entering the country at the age of eight at the request of an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer.
“He has never received any benefits from any social, economic, or educational services rendered by the Singapore government or its statutory boards,” the lawyer added.
“For all intents and purposes, (Ekawit) was born, lived, studied, served national service and found a job in Thailand, and identifies as a Thai national. He has spent his entire life to date residing in Thailand,” said Radakrishnan.
For remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit, Ekawit could have been jailed up to three years, fined up to $10,000 or both.
In response to Yahoo News Singapore’s queries on whether the prosecution would appeal against the sentence, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said it would “study the District Judge’s grounds of decision before deciding on the appropriate course of action”.
Additional reporting by Amir Hussain