A 54-year-old woman in Singapore, who made headlines in recent months by refusing to wear a mask at public places such as the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) integrated resort, was on Monday (Sept 6) jailed 16 weeks.
Phoon Chiu Yoke pleaded guilty to nine charges of breaching Covid-19 laws by not wearing a mask in public — including outside the State Courts — and leaving her hotel room while on a two-week stay-home order.
Thirteen other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.
Phoon appeared in court through a video-link. Her sentence was backdated to July 24, when she was remanded after reoffending while out on bail.
She was living at Reflections at Keppel Bay, a luxury condominium complex, at the time of her offences this year.
The court heard that she was unemployed, having retired from the Republic of Singapore Navy in 2002. She last held the rank of major.
She first made news in May when a video of her questioning a safe-distancing ambassador at MBS went viral.
Videos of her at other places, including at Clarke Quay Central mall, also circulated on social media and messaging platforms.
Phoon first broke the law on May 8 last year, when she went to the Newton Food Centre without a mask.
At that time, she lived at Holland Peak condominium in Bukit Timah.
Ignoring a safe-distancing ambassador’s advice, she instead used a scarf around her neck to cover her nose.
She then pulled it down when officers from the National Environment Agency arrived.
They advised her to put it over her nose, but she responded to say that she did not know what Covid-19 was.
She was issued a S$300 composition fine but has not paid up.
She initially contested the charge, appearing in court on May 25 this year for what was meant to be the first day of her trial.
When she left the State Courts, she was photographed taking her mask off and smiling at press photographers.
After committing the offence at Newton Food Centre, Phoon flew to the British capital London.
She returned to Singapore on June 28 last year and acknowledged the need to be isolated until July 12 under a stay-home notice to stem the spread of imported coronavirus infections.
This included not leaving her MBS hotel room. She, however, left the room five times without a mask for reasons such as taking a dip in the pool and looking at the night scenery.
On July 6 last year, after several breaches, the authorities visited her in the room and she demanded that they read out the stay-home-notice requirements.
But she remained adamant that she did not breach the conditions or agree to them, and that she had a right to use the hotel amenities after paying S$2,400 for the stay.
They later told her that she had been placed on a “checkpoint stop-list”, which meant that she would be stopped at Singapore’s land, sea or air checkpoints until the conclusion of investigations.
She then countered that she needed this in a “black-and-white letter” and was not obliged to comply with the stay-home order.
On July 9 last year, she tried to go for a swim and refused to answer security officers who asked why she left her room without a mask.
On Monday, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Heershan Kaur also took the court through several instances of Phoon not wearing a mask in public.
She did not wear a mask at least three times at St Andrew’s Cathedral near City Hall MRT Station.
On March 28 this year, she remained unmasked throughout a worship service. She then challenged a security guard, retorting that she did not have to wear one because she had a pending court case and had a right not to do so because she would win the case.
At Clarke Quay Central on May 2, she tried to enter through an office tower but was stopped.
She asked security guards where it was stated that she had to wear a mask and later questioned the authority of safe-distancing ambassadors.
She also said that they had no right to ask her to wear a mask.
A video of her challenging them went viral, which showed her saying things such as, “Don’t treat me like I don’t know the law… I want you to understand the damage you’re doing to Singapore’s image.”
As for the incident at MBS on May 15, she entered the mall without a mask and went into Din Tai Fung restaurant. She put one on for a few seconds to gain entry to the eatery for lunch.
But she soon challenged a safe-distancing ambassador, asking: “Who are you representing? Where is your badge?”
She then left and went to Toast Box cafe without a mask.
A video of her there went viral as well. It showed her asking the ambassadors: “You have no badge; who are you representing? You are not the police… I say to you, if you have no badge, don’t speak to me. You have no right to say anything.”
Finally, on June 25, she turned up at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel to eat at a restaurant. She entered and left the hotel without a mask.
Seeking 17 to 22 weeks’ jail for Phoon, DPPs Kaur and Jane Lim said that as far as the prosecution was aware, Phoon’s case was “unprecedented in the degree of offending”.
Her offences spanned more than a year and “escalated in the degree of defiance”. She breached safe-distancing rules 13 times and was caught red-handed through closed-circuit television footage or other witnesses, DPP Lim said.
Phoon’s lawyer, Mr Amos Cai from law firm Yuen Law, urged District Judge Brenda Tan to impose a fine.
She repeated her earlier claims that she suffered several serious injuries throughout her life, including spinal injuries, head concussions and internal bleeding. She did not elaborate on how these happened.
She joined the Navy in 1990 and “went on to have an exemplary 12-year naval career”, and was one of the pioneering female naval commanding officers and successfully completed her duties before retiring, Mr Cai added.
Her acts were not malicious, she had no prior convictions and she neither contracted the coronavirus nor visited any active Covid-19 clusters, the lawyer said.
“Generally, she did not intend to cause a scene or commotion. She was simply seeking to go about her daily routine with minimal interaction.”
In sentencing Phoon, District Judge Tan said that it was evident that she “offended repeatedly and amply displayed her disregard for the law as well as the safety and well-being of others”.
For each Covid-19 breach, Phoon could have been jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$10,000, or given both penalties.