Britain lodges clemency plea in caning case
THE British High Commission in Singapore has submitted a plea for clemency on behalf of Hong Kong teenager Shiu Chi-ho, who faces 12 strokes of the rattan cane after being convicted of vandalism.
Hong Kong Government sources are quietly confident the move will result in a reduction in the sentence for Shiu, but they do not expect him to get off scot free.
The development comes in the wake of a decision by the 17-year-old not to seek an appeal against his conviction for the offence. He had pleaded not guilty.
It also follows the reduction from six to four lashes given Shiu's accomplice, the American Michael Fay, 18, following the high-profile intervention of the United States President, Bill Clinton.
The appeal for clemency by the High Commission has the full support of the Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten, who had previously tried to keep out of the escalating diplomatic row over the sentence.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the High Commission said it was standard practice to lodge appeals for clemency ''on humanitarian grounds'' after all legal avenues had been exhausted.
She said the commission had been in contact with Shiu's lawyers and they supported the plea. She added that Shiu may have dropped his appeal because courts in Singapore had been known to increase a sentence if the case was lost.
The Singapore Cabinet last week advised President Ong Teng Cheong to reduce Fay's punishment and consider similar reductions for others involved in the vandalism case in which several cars were sprayed with paint. In addition to the caning, Fay is also serving four months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to the crime.
Shiu also faces eight months' jail for the offences and is remanded in custody after withdrawing his appeal on Friday. He is said to be hopeful his plea for clemency will be granted.
Hong Kong legal expert Dr Nihal Jayawickrama said the plea for clemency was a good omen for Shiu.
''The Singapore Government has the right to have these sentences on its statute books and to carry them out. They have established that principle. I don't think they are setting out to inflict the maximum amount of pain. I think principles are more important for the Singapore Government.'' Dr Jayawickrama added that Shiu's decision not to appeal against his conviction would probably not be taken into account.
He said the British Government's intervention came at the appropriate time and that honour had been satisfied.
Shiu, whose father is a former Hong Kong film star, emigrated with his family in 1983. His father now works for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation as director of the Chinese drama section.