First person convicted of stalking gets 12 months' jail

A posed photo of a stalker and his victim.
A posed photo of a stalker and his victim. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Man hounded student, displayed her nude photos in public, online

Young people should be wary of "sexting" which can lead to an "avalanche of harm" far beyond what the sender can anticipate, a district judge said yesterday when sentencing a jobless man for unlawful stalking and two other offences.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow said those who face harassment or threats to send sexual messages or images should seek legal advice or report to the authorities.

Lai Zhi Heng, 26, who became the first person here to be convicted of stalking, was sentenced to 12 months' jail.

He had pleaded guilty to the stalking charge, causing hurt by a rash act and criminal intimidation.

The judge said his victim, a 19-year-old student who cannot be named for legal reasons, eventually succumbed to Lai's threats and demands.

The court heard how for about a year from November 2014, Lai pressed her into a relationship with him and then harassed her with demands for nude photographs, which he later made public.

The victim said the ordeal gave her sleepless nights and even suicidal thoughts.

The judge said: "What seems innocent may easily prove to be profoundly damaging, for there are myriad motivations and methods for what is sexted to be abused."

When the girl gave in and acceded to his growing demands, it appeared to further warp Lai's sense of empowerment. He carried out even more grievous and harmful forms of harassment and abuse.

"The offender quite mercilessly took full advantage of what he obtained from her in order to punish her when she tried to distance herself from him," the judge said.

Lai printed fliers and posters of the nude photographs she had sent him. He put them into letter boxes and displayed them in public locations near her home.

He also uploaded the photographs onto the Facebook page of her school's student club, giving her personal details and stating that she was available for sexual services.

He said Lai's threats were not only "prolonged and unrelenting", but also "acute and vicious", aimed at keeping her trapped under his power and calculated to cause as much embarrassment and humiliation to her as possible.

He noted that his harassment flowed from an "obdurate and absorbing obsession" which had little to do with any affection he had for her.

"The facts showed that his fixation was driven by a consuming need to have power and control over her and also by his intense sense of grievance over perceived wrong against him by the victim," he said.

The judge added that Lai was a "prisoner of his own obsession".

"While his tendency may be to be engrossed with external causes of his predicament, it is this internal issue he needs to find courage to confront and deal with."

He hoped Lai would receive rehabilitative help in prison so that he would be able to let go of the past and rebuild his life.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Janet George had highlighted several aggravating factors in the case, such as the duration of the offence.

She said he had also threatened the girl earlier this year while out on bail for the offences.

The girl said in her victim impact statement that Lai followed her almost every day. Her mother had to stop work to accompany her to and from school as she was afraid to leave home alone.

"I feel traumatised because of him and I lost my friends after he posted my naked pictures in the school Internet pages," she stated. "I really want him to stop coming near me, my family, my house or my school. I just want him out of my life."

Urging the court to give his client a chance, lawyer T.M. Sinnadurai said Lai was remorseful and would not confront or see the victim any more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'First person convicted of stalking gets 12 months' jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe