S'porean man who breached SHN to eat bak kut teh jailed for 6 weeks

The prosecution had previously asked for a jail term of 10 to 12 weeks to be meted out.

Matthias Ang | Nigel Chua | April 23, 2020, 10:47 AM

Alan Tham, a Singaporean man who breached his Stay-Home Notice (SHN) to eat bak kut teh, has been sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment

Tham's case gained attention after he published a Facebook post about enjoying a meal of bak kut teh, having just returned to Singapore from a trip to Myanmar on the same day.

His case was also mentioned by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam in Parliament.

Hearing on Apr. 16

Deputy Public Prosecutors Kenneth Chin and Norman Yew had asked for a jail term of 10 to 12 weeks to be meted out, saying that Tham posed a "moderate risk" of infecting the public with Covid-19, and showed high culpability in breaching his SHN.

On Apr. 23, Chin stated that as the accused was not tested for Covid-19, the prosecution accepted the benefit of doubt that Tham is not Covid-19 positive. He clarified that this did not mean the prosecution accepted that he was Covid-19 negative, however.

The prosecution also argued that just because Tham is not Covid-19 positive, this does not place him in the low category of harm.

Chin added that all persons who have reason to suspect they are carriers or contacts must act responsibly.

Tham, who previously indicated that he intended to defend himself, was represented by lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation.

In court on Apr. 16, Tan asked for a fine of not more than S$10,000 to be imposed instead of a jail term, saying that "there is no need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly" in his mitigation plea for Tham.

Tan added that Tham had already lost his job in CISCO Secure Logistics as a consequence of his actions.

ICA advisory letter

Tham's lawyers also argued on Apr. 23 that the wording of the ICA advisory suggested that ICA deemed Tham's culpability for his actions, as well as the potential harm done, to be low.

In their supplementary submissions, his lawyers highlighted the following section from an undated but signed non-compliance Advisory that had been served to Alan and stated, among other things:

“You are hereby advised to comply with the requirements of the SHN. If you are found to be in non-compliance with the SHN again, the same leniency may not be shown towards you, and enforcement action may be taken against you under section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act.”

Tan added that the reasonable inference which flows from this is that the enforcement agencies assessed Alan to be of low risk and harm.

In addition, Tan also stated that Tham breached the SHN on day zero, unlike other cases and called for the judge to place to place sentencing weight on what Tham did after he arrived home and the amount of time he spent in public afterwards which amounted to about one hour and 30 minutes.

As such, Tan said that Tham's punishment should neither be the lightest nor the heaviest and that the defence was asking for a maximum fine of up to $10,000, or, alternatively, a jail term of up to two weeks.

Should Tham have worn a mask?

The prosecution highlighted that Tham did not take precautions such as wearing a face mask to reduce the risk of infection to others.

However, Tham's lawyers pointed out that prevailing advice from the authorities at the time was that wearing a mask was only necessary for those who felt unwell.

Should Tham's actions before reaching home be relevant?

While Tham's lawyers conceded that Tham had breached the SHN by going out after having returned home, they argued that his actions before reaching home should have less bearing on his sentence.

This is because, Tham's lawyers said, the SHN which he was served did not impose any restrictions on him before he reached home. They also highlighted the fact that there was no requirement then for Singapore residents to be escorted to a designated location to serve their SHN.

(The requirement for SHNs to be served out in designated locations was introduced on Mar. 24 and initially applied to arrivals from the U.S. and U.K..)

Tham's lawyers said that this implied that the recipient of an SHN is allowed to do what is reasonable before going home, and said that Tham's actions prior to going home were "nothing out of the ordinary for someone who was settling back down in Singapore after an overseas trip".

Accused is making himself sound like the victim of an "administrative mishap"

In response to the defence, Chin stated that the accused was making himself to sound like the victim of an "administrative mishap" when it was in fact he was the one who committed an offence.

Additionally, the suggestion that he was justified in not going home immediately is misguided as the actions he took were not necessary, Chin added.

He elaborated that Tham could have gone home to get food or changed his currency at another time.

Chin also reiterated that the accused's offence was to expose the public to the risk of infection when he has reason to suspect he is infected with Covid-19 and that it was his duty to isolate himself at home once he received the SHN.

What the judge said

In passing his sentence, Judge Ong Hian Sun stated that it was clear that at the material time of Mar. 23, the accused was assessed to be have a low risk of transmission by the authorities, hence the court assessed the risk of transmission as low.

With regard to Tham's actions and culpability, the court assessed the level to be moderate.

As such, Ong added, the court was of the view that six weeks imprisonment is warranted to send a message to the accused and other like-minded individuals.

The maximum penalty for breach of a SHN is imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.

Tham will begin serving his sentence on Apr. 30.

What happened on the day of the offence?

Tham met his girlfriend at the airport upon arrival in Singapore, and the couple headed to the Kopitiam Food Court at Terminal 3 to have a meal at 3.40pm.

They then booked a private-hire vehicle to Peninsula Plaza, arriving at 4.53pm, where Tham changed a sum of money.

They then took another private-hire vehicle to Tham's house, arriving at 6.35pm, with Tham taking a shower afterwards.

The couple then headed out for dinner, boarded bus 912 at 8.27pm and went to Kampung Admiralty located at Blk 676, Woodlands Drive 71.

While eating bak kut teh at Kampung Admiralty Foodfare Hawker Centre, Tham posted a photo of his meal on social media, and was chastised by his friends, who stated that he should not be out in public as he was on a SHN.

In spite of this, Tham did not immediately return home.

Instead, he finished his meal, and headed to a nearby NTUC FairPrice outlet to purchase groceries, before returning to his house at 10pm.

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Top image via Mothership Staff and Alan Tham on Facebook