Man jailed 12 months for unlawful stalking and rash act causing hurt

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

SINGAPORE - An unemployed man who stalked a teenager for about a year and demanded photographs of her private parts was jailed for 12 months on Friday (June 17).

Lai Zhi Heng, 26, is the first to be convicted of unlawful stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha). He had repeatedly threatened to release the 19-year-old's nude photographs to people she knew if she did not comply with his requests to meet him and send him more nude photographs.

Between November 2014 and November last year, he uploaded her nude photographs onto the Facebook page of her school's student club, put up fliers with her photograph and harassing messages near her home.

He had admitted to unlawful stalking, rash act causing hurt and criminal intimidation with a stalking charge taken into consideration in sentencing.

On July 12 last year, he accelerated and swerved his car when the girl's 23-year-old brother tried to stop him from leaving.

While out on bail earlier this year, he threatened to post the girl's nude photographs online if she did not provide a mitigation letter to his lawyer. He was charged last November.

The court heard that Lai and the girl had a brief sexual relationship in 2013. At the time, she had been in a romantic relationship with another man.

When she broke up with her then-boyfriend, due to Lai's continual harassment, Lai wanted her to be his girlfriend but she rejected him.

After she complained to her lecturer about Lai's harassment in late 2013, Lai had an argument with the lecturer and left school. He then blamed the girl for "ruining his life".

About four months later, he sent a photograph of his private parts to her and asked for one in exchange. She ignored him. He then threatened to go to her home and harass her.

She then complied. Lai used the photograph to further threaten her. In all, she sent him 30 naked photographs of herself.

The harassment did not stop.

He continued sending her harassing messages and even printed fliers and put them at her block.

In passing sentence, District Judge Lim Keng Yeow sounded a word of caution especially to young people who may engage in sexting (sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone), treating it as adventurous and harmless.

"The facts of this case do demonstrate how sexting can lead to an avalanche of harm far beyond what a sender can anticipate.

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

He said long before the offender was remanded in prison, he was already a "prisoner of his own obsessions". He added that he hoped that Lai would be brave to confront and deal with his mental and emotional issues, let go of the past and rebuild his life, directing it toward constructive pursuits.

The judge noted that Lai's harassment flowed from an obsession which, while directed at the victim, had little to do with any affection he had for her.

Instead, 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 wrongs against him by the victim.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Janet George had sought a six-month sentence for unlawful stalking, highlighting the impact on the victim and her family as a result of Lai's actions. She had asked for a four-month sentence on the criminal intimidation charge as Lai had re-offended.

The maximum penalty for unlawful stalking is a $5,000 fine and 12 months' jail. For criminal intimidation, the maximum penalty is 10 years' jail and a fine.