SINGAPORE — An ex-naval officer charged for not wearing a mask in numerous places was handed 14 fresh charges on Tuesday (6 July).
These add on to the seven existing charges Phoon Chiu Yoke faces, for not wearing her mask in various places and breaching her Stay-Home Notice.
Phoon, a 53-year-old Singaporean, made the news after she was filmed in a confrontation with a safe-distancing ambassador (SDA) at Marina Bay Sands on 15 May this year.
The incident was caught in a viral video, which showed Phoon demanding to see the SDA's badge. Phoon also removed her mask after leaving court on 24 May, when she was photographed and filmed by the media.
The new charges she faces consist of seven charges for failing to wear her mask at places such as Marina Bay Sands last July, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral earlier this year, and Tiong Bahru Market and ION Orchard this May, and outside of the State Courts at around 12.56pm on 24 May - ahead of her court hearing.
She is also said to have exposing others to the risk of getting COVID-19 by breaching her Stay-Home Notice at Marina Bay Sands - issued on 28 June last year - by loitering in hotel's common spaces four times in early July last year.
Phoon also had four of her original charges amended.
May have committed another offence as recently as 25 June
The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Jane Lim, sought to increase Phoon's bail to at least $12,000 on Tuesday for three reasons: that Phoon was handed 14 new charges, that she failed to respond to attempts by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to reach her, and that she had possibly committed a fresh offence as recently as 25 June.
The DPP told the court that Phoon appears to have failed to surrender to custody as needed by ignoring ICA's attempts to reach her.
"She was contacted by the ICA on 3 and 4 July, calls were made to her handphone, and an email was sent to her requesting for her to make herself available for the serving of cautioned statement. She ignored all calls and the email. Voicemails also left to her handphone which was also (not responded to)," said DPP Lim.
The DPP added that the ICA investigation officer tried to speak to Phoon ahead of her court hearing on Tuesday morning, but that Phoon refused to speak to him.
On Phoon's possible fresh offence, DPP Lim said, "It has come to our attention as well that after the last court mention on 8 June 2021, where bail was extended, there was express direction and condition of bail that (she) must abide by COVID-19 regulations and restrictions.
"However, quite unfortunately, investigations are underway for (a) fresh offence committed after the court date. This was as recent as 25 June 2021."
The DPP asked District Judge Lorraine Ho to increase the bail amount, with Phoon to be warned to comply with conditions, failing which she might be liable for fresh offences and a revocation of her bail.
In response, Phoon, who appeared in court unrepresented, claimed that she might have missed the ICA officer's call as she receives many prank calls on her phone. She said she could have "missed" the email as well.
"If they wanted to contact me in the last three weeks they could have sent to me registered mail...if you had sent registered mail or normal mail, I would have responded to the ICA charges," she said.
"The ICA officer... approached me outside the court room just now and his manner was very aggressive and I have reasons not to be engaged in conversation with him when he is in such a highly emotional state."
DPP Lim replied that according to an ICA officer, a person had picked up the phone call, but did not say anything and soon hung up. She added that the ICA officer had also contacted Phoon's bailor who confirmed he would inform Phoon about ICA's requests.
Woman cites 'long medical history' for not wearing mask
Phoon cited her "long medical history" for not wearing her mask, including eczema, which causes her rashes, and feeling breathless.
"And if I feel breathless the most natural human response is to pull (the mask) down so that I can breathe rather than collapse," she said.
She again asked that her charges be dropped as it was difficult for her to have a "justifiable hearing" due to her history as a naval officer.
"I have a long medical history. Some were self-inflicted, some were medical incidents occurred while I was serving based on matters of humanities and ethics and values. I am suggesting that you consider dropping these charges because many others with same medical history as mine could have been bereaved," she told DJ Ho.
DPP Lim replied that it was not the appropriate forum for Phoon to raise her defence and suggested that the matter be fixed for a pre-trial conference. She also said that Phoon should not comply with bail conditions according to her "whims and fancies".
"These are directions given by the court and she must comply with them or face the consequences. It's not up to her whether she wants to or not," said DPP Lim.
Phoon replied, "I am complying as much as I can. If I am breathless, would you continue to (have me) wear as mask and collapse?"
DJ Ho set Phoon's case for a pre-trial conference on 23 July. Phoon was also placed on a fresh court bail of $12,000 - an increase from her original $8,000. The judge also warned her not to commit any fresh offences while on bail, and to abide by COVID-19 regulations in place.
"And wear your mask properly," the DJ added, as the case came to a close.
The maximum penalty for breaching COVID-19 measures is six months' jail and a fine of $10,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to one year and fined up to $20,000.
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