Man jailed nine weeks for defaulting on NS for more than four years

(PHOTO: The Singapore Army/Facebook)
(FILE PHOTO: The Singapore Army/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — He lived in Singapore for a month from birth before moving to Hong Kong, where he lived until he went to university in Britain.

However, Jonathan Lee Han Wen, who was a Singaporean citizen and a Hong Kong Permanent Resident, failed to serve National Service (NS) and defaulted on his obligations for four years, eight months and 30 days.

The 22-year-old, who has since renounced his PR status in Hong Kong, was jailed for nine weeks on Tuesday (5 November) for four breaches of the Enlistment Act. These include one count of remaining outside Singapore upon expiry of his Exit Permit, two counts of remaining outside of Singapore without a valid exit permit, and one count of failing to report for enlistment into full-time NS.

He was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal for the charge of failing to comply with a Further Reporting Order to report for pre-enlistment documentation and medical screening.

Knew about NS obligations since young

Lee, who is currently serving NS after enlisting on 4 October last year, was born in Singapore in December 1996. His mother is a Singaporean, while his father is a British and a Hong Kong PR.

He enrolled in Lancaster University and he obtained a bachelor’s degree on 10 July last year.

Being a Singapore citizen, Lee applied and was issued with five Singapore international passports as he was growing up. He visited his relatives in Singapore on 22 occasions using these passports until January 2017.

He also used the passports to travel to places such as Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand on several occasions. Lee would choose either his Singapore or Hong Kong passport tor travel based on the visa requirements of the destined country.

According to the prosecution, Lee knew about his NS obligations since he was in primary school. His mother and maternal aunt had told him about the requirements, and Lee knew that his mother chose to gave birth to him in Singapore.

“At that time, the sovereignty over the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was about to be transferred to the People’s Republic of China. Hence, (Lee’s mother) desired for (her son) to have a Singapore citizenship which allows him to return to Singapore as a place of relative stability,” Deputy Public Prosecutor Gabriel Lim told the court.

Remained outside Singapore when exit permit expired

On 21 January 2013, Lee applied online for an exit permit for overseas studies. He was issued a permit which was valid until 31 August 2013.

On 6 August 2013, after Lee had turned 16 years old, he registered for NS. However, after his exit permit expired, Lee remained outside of Singapore.

His mother corresponded by email with Central Manpower Base (CMPB) for a renewal of her son’s exit permit, and was informed that she needed to provide a bond of $75,000 for the permit to be issued. The mother failed to furnish the bond, despite the deadline being extended multiple times.

She also applied several times for NS deferment till her son turned 21 years old, pending a renunciation of Singapore citizenship. The applications were rejected multiple times, with CMPB stating that male Singapore citizens had to fulfil their full-time NS obligations before the request to renounce the citizenship could be considered.

On 18 August 2014, Lee was sent a Further Reporting Order to report at CMPB on 19 September 2014 for pre-enlistment documentation and medical screening.

An email reminder was also sent to Lee’s mother a week later, informing her again that Lee would have to serve NS before renouncing his Singapore citizenship. She was also informed that her son had committed an offence by remaining outside of Singapore without a valid exit permit.

Lee failed to report for his medical screening and was placed on a blacklist on 14 October 2014.

Requested deferment for studies

On 5 August 2015, Lee requested with CMPB for a deferment from NS so that he could start his three-year university degree course with the Lancaster University. By then he was 18 years old and required to enlist for NS.

CMPB rejected the deferment request and informed Lee to return to Singapore resolve his NS offences.

Lee then told his mother he would finish his studies before returning to Singapore. He researched online and was aware of the penalties for NS defaulters. He estimated that his likely imprisonment term was about two months if he returned to serve NS upon completing his university degree.

In further correspondence with CMPB, Lee’s mother said that her son had a change of heart and had decided to serve NS.

The mother provided information of Lee’s flight to Singapore on 18 December 2016. Lee had wanted to use his two-week term break then to return to Singapore and renew his passport, as he wanted to visit Taiwan using the passport.

After returning to Singapore, Lee reported to CMPB on 3 January 2017. He completed his pre-enlistment documentation and underwent medical screening on the same day.

He then left Singapore and returned in April. He left again in the same month and returned in July, before leaving again in the same month.

Despite being notified to enlist for NS, Lee chose to finish the third year of his university degree instead, and failed to report for enlistment on 6 October 2017. A stop list was raised against Lee, who ignored reminder letters to report to CMPB.

Lee returned to Singapore on 3 September last year, after he gained his bachelor’s degree. He reported to CMPB the next day and later enlisted into full-time NS.

Client had limited choices, says defence lawyer

Based on the length that Lee had defaulted, DPP Lim sought at least nine weeks’ jail. Lee’s lawyer Ashwin Ganapathy asked for a jail term of nine weeks.

“It is clear that our client has little or no links to Singapore. Apart from being born in Singapore and having lived in Singapore for less than a month from birth, all other ties with Singapore is virtually non-existent,” said Ganapathy in court documents.

The lawyer said that Lee’s mother was the one who was in constant contact with CMPB and that, being 16 years old when informed about his NS obligations, Lee was heavily dependent on her advice.

“Our client, being just 16 years old and never having heard of such an obligation, did not think much of this letter, let alone its significance,” said Ganapathy.

While his mother told him that she would contact CMPB and apply for a deferment, his client was not told the contents of the email and was not copied in them. He was “puzzled” by the NS requirements as he had never identified himself as Singaporean and never thought of living in Singapore, said the lawyer.

Lee became aware of the penalties for defaulting on his NS obligations only when he was in university, stated Ganapathy.

While Lee asked his university for help, he was told he could defer his university education only for a year. Should he fail to re-enrol after a year’s deferment, the fees which his father paid, which amounted to $230,000, would be forfeited.

“With limited choices, our client made the unfortunate decision to finish his university education first before serving NS,” Ganapathy said.

The Ministry of Defence also released a media statement on Tuesday regarding Lee’s sentencing.

“Despite being aware of his NS obligations, Lee wilfully remained overseas to pursue his university studies,” the ministry said. “He only returned to serve NS in September 2018 after he completed his university studies. In doing so, he had gained an unfair advantage vis-a-vis his peers who served dutifully when called upon to do so.

“Since the High Court set out the sentencing framework for NS defaulters in 2017, 13 defaulters, including Lee, have been sentenced to imprisonment.”

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