Singapore convict escapes caning after sex change

A Singaporean man who underwent sex-change surgery before being convicted on drugs charges escaped caning after a court recognised the change in gender, local media reported Tuesday.

Preeta Nivashani M Rechnam, 40, was jailed on Monday for seven years and three months for a second drugs offence but she escaped caning as Singapore law dictates that women, and men over the age of 50, cannot undergo the punishment.

Applied with a rattan cane and dating back to British colonial rule, the punishment is typically imposed in robbery, drugs and some sex cases and is denounced as inhumane by rights groups.

The Straits Times newspaper said Rechnam had first been sentenced in 1998 to three strokes of the cane in addition to a jail sentence of five years after being caught using morphine.

Following release, Rechnam went to Thailand in 2006 for sex-change surgery but was rearrested last December for consuming metamphetamines and heroin in Singapore's red-light district in the company of two men.

If Rechnam had not undergone sex-change surgery, she could have been sentenced to six to 12 strokes of the cane in addition to the jail term for being a repeat offender.

A mug shot published in the Straits Times Tuesday showed Rechnam sporting a thick mop of hair that fell over her shoulders -- and what appeared to be a stubble on the chin.

Lawyers interviewed by the daily said the judge's ruling was likely to have been influenced by a medical report on Rechnam's emotional and physical state.

Singapore law allows men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery to be recognised as women and marry men.