A former British public schoolboy has been flogged naked in Singapore for drugs offences.
London-born Ye Ming Yuen, 31, who went to £41,000-a-year Westminster School, was strapped to a large wooden trestle before being caned 24 times.
The brutal punishment was carried out yesterday, a week after Yuen lost his final appeal against the sentence,
Last night the Foreign Office condemned the decision to lash his bare buttocks with a 4ft rattan cane.
The ‘judicial corporal punishment’ was conducted despite calls for leniency from Home Secretary Priti Patel and ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. Yuen was caned in the city-state’s Changi Prison where he is serving 20 years for drug offences.
Last night Yuen’s sister Elysia Yuen, 32, said: ‘I am amazed that Ming, who’d been so scared, had the physical and mental capacity to get through 24 strokes in one go. [We were] told Ming was very strong during the caning and afterwards too.
‘Ming knows what he did was wrong and deserved to be punished. We know it’s a different country with different laws and you should respect those laws, but isn’t a 20-year prison sentence punishment enough?’
In a statement, the British High Commission in Singapore said: ‘The UK strongly opposes corporal punishment in all circumstances and condemns its use in this case.’
Yuen’s case was first revealed by the Mail in January last year. Mr Hunt raised it with Singapore’s minister for foreign affairs when he visited the country that month.
Since then Foreign Office officials have made further representations on Yuen’s behalf, while human rights groups condemned Singapore’s use of the cane, saying it breaches the UN Convention Against Torture.
Yuen was first arrested over drugs offences in August 2016.
According to his family, who live in the UK, the only furniture he has in his cell, where he spends 22 hours a day, is a bamboo mat. He is allowed only two visits from his family a month.
A former club DJ in Singapore, his offences include two counts of ‘repeat drug trafficking’ – one of 69g and one of 60g of cannabis. Another offence included drug trafficking of 15g of crystal meth.
Before moving to Singapore in 2007, Yuen – the son of a marketing consultant from China and a Singapore-born marketing executive – was a pupil at Dulwich Prep School in south London and then Westminster School, which is next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
At Westminster School he gained 11 GCSEs, four A*s, six As, and one B. But while at the top public school he ‘got in with the wrong crowd’ and ended up in trouble with the police.
In 2007, it emerged that Yuen was wanted by Scotland Yard over an alleged forged driving licences scam.
A newspaper tracked him down to Singapore, where he reportedly admitted that he manufactured fake documents and sold them to pupils.
A spokesman for the Singapore High Commission in London has previously told the Mail: ‘Singapore deals with the drug problem comprehensively with the strictest enforcement coupled with the severest of penalties to protect the welfare of the public and our collective aspiration to live and raise our children in a safe oasis.’
But human rights groups say caning in Singapore is a violation of international law and breaches the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Caning in Singapore is mandatory in dozens of offences, including attempted murder and rape. Only medically fit men aged 16 to 50 are caned.
At 9am yesterday Elysia Yuen received the phone call her family had been dreading.
As soon as she heard the question ‘are you sitting down?’ she knew it was too late to save her adored, wayward, academically gifted younger brother Ming, 31, from the most ‘barbaric’ of physical punishments.
Elysia was informed by an official from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that her brother had been taken from his cell in the Changi Prison Complex in Singapore to the caning room.
He needed to say no more. Elysia already knew every detail of what her brother must have endured because she and her family had spent almost four years trying to stop it.
Stripped naked and strapped to a wooden ‘flogging frame’, he would have been given 24 strokes with a 4ft rattan cane to his exposed buttocks before being returned to his cell with ointments for his ripped and bloodied skin.
There, he would be left in appalling pain to contemplate the rest of his 20-year sentence for drugs offences which in Britain might have resulted in no more than a 12-month stretch.
‘For almost four years we have lived with the psychological torture of knowing that Ming could be taken from his cell at any time, without any prior warning, and subjected to this barbaric and inhumane punishment,’ says Elysia, 32, whose brother was working as a club DJ in Singapore at the time of his arrest in 2016.
‘We’ve lived with the fear he could pass out from the pain after three or four strokes and have to go through it again, or be left with permanent physical damage and scars both physical and psychological.
‘So to be told that the caning had gone ahead felt just insane and surreal. I felt this terrible mix of emotions, from relief that it was finally over to great sadness for my brother,’ says Elysia, whose pleas for clemency went unheeded.
‘Our liaison officer at the FCO told us Ming was very strong during the caning. He knows what he did was wrong. We are an upstanding, religious family and certainly don’t advocate the use of drugs, but isn’t a 20-year prison sentence punishment enough?’
The brutal reality of what they do to convicted drug offenders in the former British colony has been a source of never-ending distress for Yuen’s family, who have all stood by him despite being appalled by his crime.
Yuen’s businessman father Alex, 71, had fought tirelessly until his death from coronavirus in March to seek leniency for his public school-educated son, who he always hoped would one day become a doctor or lawyer.
Elysia weeps as she remembers how their father struggled to speak during their last phone call — a small act of mercy on behalf of the prison warders — and how her brother, joking with him to the end, refused to believe his father might die.
First arrested in August 2016 after being searched by police while out walking in a park, British-born Yuen was given the maximum sentence after he was caught again carrying drugs — cannabis and 15g of crystal meth.
He claimed they were for his own use and for sharing with his wealthy ex-pat friends on the club scene.
Unknown to his horrified family he’d first started experimenting with drugs as a teenager after ‘falling in with the wrong crowd’ while a pupil at £41,000-a-year Westminster School.
Not even an intervention by then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt last year could call a halt to the ‘judicial corporal punishment’, nor the concerted efforts of human rights lawyers.
After Yuen’s second last-ditch legal appeal against the caning was rejected by the Singaporean courts last week, Yuen released his own desperate handwritten plea from prison via his solicitor — but it was too late.
While some might think he got what he deserved, his family believe that after being caught with small amounts of drugs, the punishment was disproportionate and inhumane.
As his sister says: ‘I certainly don’t advocate drugs but it’s not as if he was a dealer handing out drugs to kids on the street corner. He was using drugs recreationally with friends, but in Singapore there is no distinction.’
Yuen’s letter, dated August 6, 2020, makes disturbing reading, as he pleads for the end of the ‘barbaric and inhumane practice’ of corporal punishment, and tries to explain how he became embroiled in the drugs scene.
‘What I am fighting for is not only my own future, but for the conservation of corporal dignity and for the unwavering belief that in any civilised society, violence has no place where the disposal of justice is concerned,’ he wrote.
‘Are we in favour of a system where the blood of the wayward is demanded to grease the wheels of justice … that demands the pain, humiliation and debasement of those who fall foul of the law? Or do we believe justice can exist without degradation, without the violation of the human body?
‘Churchill once said that a society could be judged by the way it treats its prisoners. No human being deserves to be treated this way. It may be too late and too bad for me, but it is not, and never will be too late, for posterity to benefit from your compassion.’
In another letter dated August 3, 2020, Yuen tries to explain how a boy, whose parents held such hope for him, fell into drug dependency. ‘It is difficult for me to picture myself as the recalcitrant criminal I am painted to be,’ he wrote.
Yuen moved to Singapore from Britain, aged 17, to live with his mother’s family after his father was made bankrupt after a bad investment and lost everything.
The Yuens’ five-bedroom home in Balham, south London, was repossessed and the family moved into emergency council accommodation. Unable to afford Westminster’s fees, Yuen — who’d gained a string of A and A* grades at GCSE — went to a state school for his A-levels but failed to settle.
Before leaving for Singapore he’d also got into trouble over an alleged scam involving forged driving licences, which he reportedly sold to other pupils to buy alcohol and cigarettes. ‘To see the taboo, to rebel, to experiment, are all part of growing up,’ he wrote.
‘A campaign of honesty and frankness is needed to dissuade the young from falling into a cycle of addiction which is at the root of social problems caused by drugs.
‘I think for people my age, a very big problem is that we don’t really see the harm caused by, say, smoking a spliff, or taking a pill. To us (and to be very frank) drugs are fun, until they are not.’
Neither Elysia, who worked in digital marketing until being made redundant during the pandemic, nor her 29-year-old younger sister, had any idea that their brother had dabbled with drugs since his teen years until his arrest.
‘Ming is so clever, so capable, he could be anything that he wants to be. Even as a child, he’d always been so confident and outgoing. Our dad always called him the class clown, telling jokes and making people laugh,’ says Elysia.
‘My father going bankrupt affected my brother the most, because his circle of friends had money and did certain things and went to certain places, and he couldn’t afford to do that any more. It was a shock for all of us when we lost everything but it was hugely embarrassing for Ming.’
In Singapore, Ming liked the life so much he decided to stay, eventually working as a DJ in his uncle’s nightclub before moving onto Zouk, one of the world’s biggest clubs.
‘Ming was voted Singapore’s best DJ. He had his face on billboards, on the side of buses and magazine covers. I had no idea he’d got involved in drugs so it was a huge shock when my auntie called saying Ming had been arrested,’ says Elysia. ‘I remember tears rolling down my face when she told me he could face a death sentence.
‘That was the most terrifying thing. Our parents were devastated, but he was still their son and we all loved him.’
The capital charge was dropped because the net weight of the drugs involved was less than 500g, but Yuen wrecked his chances of a lighter sentence after being caught using again while on bail, resulting in the maximum caning penalty. ‘We are not excusing Ming’s behaviour and I do feel when he was on bail that was a low point for him,’ says Elysia.
‘He knew he’d be going back to court to be sentenced to prison, so as someone who was taking drugs, that was where he found his solace and escapism.
‘The severity of the sentence felt barbaric. I think he is being made an example of because Singapore wants to send the message, ‘Don’t come to our country and break the rules’, but 24 strokes is the maximum anyone can receive, even rapists.
‘Anyone who doesn’t think that is barbaric can’t be human. It’s awful. I don’t think anyone should be subjected to physical torture because if you are going to prison, that is already your punishment.’
Since his incarceration, Yuen’s family have visited once a year. He is allowed one face-to-face visit, separated by security glass, a month plus one ‘televisit’ where loved ones can only see him via a screen from a different room.
Elysia says he tries to be cheerful and is always excited to see them. He is not allowed phone calls and their only other communication is via prison email.
‘Ming feels he has let our mum down, but she doesn’t feel that way. He’s her son and she loves him. He is still a very capable person and can still make a life for himself when he is released from prison.’
With the caning now over, the family are fighting for him to be transferred to a British prison. ‘Right now, we just want to make sure he has all the support that he needs,’ says Elysia.
‘He’s already been punished physically and mentally, and that will be with him for the rest of his life. It was a barbaric thing for him to go through, but we need to remember there are other people facing this as well who don’t have a voice.’