Singapore rejects criticism that caning is 'torture'

A policewoman sits next to Elton Hinz, a German national arrested in Singapore for vandalism, on November 22, 2014

Singapore on Monday defended a court order for two German men to be caned for spray-painting a metro train and trespassing into a high-security depot, rejecting claims the punishment amounts to torture.

A court in the city-state, which takes a hardline stance against vandalism, last week sentenced Andreas Von Knorre, 22, and Elton Hinz, 21, to nine months in prison and three strokes of the cane over the incident in November last year.

US-based Human Rights Watch has slammed Singapore's continued use of caning -- a punishment dating back to British colonial rule -- as a "shameful recourse to using torture". 

But Singapore's state prosecution arm said Monday the court's decision showed that the Southeast Asian island nation was holding the two Germans to "the same standards as all others".

"Singapore's laws against vandalism are well known. Caning is a prescribed punishment for the offence of vandalism, and the law applies to any person who chooses to break it," a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's Chambers told AFP.

"Caning is not torture. It is carried out in Singapore under strict standards, monitored at all times by a doctor," she added.

Von Knorre and Hinz were "vandals who broke the law for their own self-aggrandisement, without consideration of the social costs, and the disruptions that their acts would cause to others," she said. 

In their final hearing, both men called their acts a "stupid mistake" and pleaded for mercy. 

Court documents said they had broken into a suburban depot of state-linked metro operator SMRT on November 7 and 8. 

On the second occasion, they spray-painted graffiti on a train carriage.

Under the law, those convicted of vandalism using an indelible substance face a minimum mandatory three strokes of the cane. 

The punishment, which entails being whipped on the back of the thigh below the buttocks, is also imposed for serious crimes such as rape, gang robbery and rioting. 

Singapore's tough stance on vandalism became global news in 1994 when an American teenager, Michael Fay, was caned for damaging cars and public property.

In 2010 Swiss expatriate Oliver Fricker was sentenced to seven months in jail and three strokes of the cane after he used spray paint to vandalise a train at a depot.

Human Rights Watch said after the Germans were sentenced that "every day that Singapore keeps caning on its books is a dark day for the country’s international reputation."