28-year-old jailed 16 weeks for evading NS

Jonathan Tan and his father, SC Tan Chee Meng, leaving the State Courts yesterday. The judge said the 28-year-old, who completed primary school education here, had reaped the benefits of the Singapore education system.
Jonathan Tan and his father, SC Tan Chee Meng, leaving the State Courts yesterday. The judge said the 28-year-old, who completed primary school education here, had reaped the benefits of the Singapore education system.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Senior counsel's son remained abroad without valid permit for over a decade

He reaped the benefits of the Singapore education system and has immediate family members still living here.

These were among the reasons District Judge Shawn Ho gave yesterday before sentencing national service (NS) defaulter Jonathan Tan Huai En, 28, to 16 weeks in jail.

Jonathan Tan - the elder son of Senior Counsel (SC) Tan Chee Meng - had pleaded guilty on Jan 13 to two counts of remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit between Dec 22, 2004, and May 4, 2015.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Houston Johannus had earlier asked for a five-month jail term, and argued that Jonathan Tan had reaped the benefits of his Singapore citizenship by completing his primary school education here.

The prosecution also said he never took any concrete action to renounce his citizenship, despite moving to Canada in 2000 and becoming a citizen there in 2005.

  • Past case forms basis for sentence

  • A 25-year-old who left Singapore to study in Australia as a teenager was jailed for 1-1/2 months in February last year for evading national service (NS) enlistment for more than six years.

    The High Court had ruled in favour of the prosecution's appeal against the original sentence of a $4,500 fine. In sentencing him, Justice Chan Seng Onn laid down detailed sentencing guidelines with the help of a graph, ruling that jail time is warranted for those who have a "substantial connection" to Singapore but evade NS by remaining overseas for more than two years.

    The judgment was relied on in the sentencing of Jonathan Tan Huai En (see main report).

    In the earlier case, the court said the 25-year-old man would have been jailed for three months, but gave him a 1-1/2-month discount for his exceptional performance during NS, which he served after his voluntary surrender in 2013.

His lawyer Josephine Choo had urged the court to impose a fine or a community-based sentence, arguing that as Singaporeans do not pay primary school fees, he did not benefit from having completed his primary school education in Singapore.

This assertion is misconceived, Judge Ho said in his grounds of decision yesterday.

Stressing that students here receive first-rate education in a safe and conducive learning environment, he said: "Primary school education is free for Singapore citizens because the school fees are completely borne by the state.

"By way of comparison, according to the Ministry of Education, the primary school fees for an international student outside Asean, studying in Singapore, is at least $43,200 over six years."

Judge Ho also pointed out that SC Tan and his younger son, Mr Isaac Tan Yang Ern, 25, are now living in Singapore. Because of this, he said, Jonathan Tan retains a substantial connection to Singapore.

He added: "As both his father and brother reside here, and insofar as the accused intends to reside in Singapore, he will enjoy the suite of benefits accorded to Singapore citizens, including healthcare, housing and other benefits."

On Jan 13, Ms Choo said Jonathan Tan, who came back to Singapore on May 5, 2015, could not return earlier as his mother was suffering from a psychiatric condition.

Yesterday, the judge said he was not inclined to give any mitigatory weight to this matter. Noting that Jonathan Tan's sister is in Canada with their mother, he said: "Given that (the mother) has been in Vancouver for more than 16 years, it is unsurprising that she would have her own support system on top of the accused's support. It is also always open for her to return to Singapore, especially since her husband and sons reside here."

Jonathan Tan, Mr Isaac Tan, their older sister and their mother migrated to Canada on Dec 1, 2000, with no intention of returning to Singapore. SC Tan remained in Singapore because of a lack of employment opportunities overseas, while Jonathan Tan received his Canadian citizenship in early 2005.

Between Dec 1 that year and June 30, 2006, three letters were sent to their Singapore address, asking him to register for NS. When he failed to turn up, Central Manpower Base (CMPB) officers went to the home in October and November of 2006.

In mid-2009, SC Tan called CMPB to say his elder son wanted to renounce his Singapore citizenship. About two months later, SC Tan sent CMPB a letter from his lawyers, stating the request again. But CMPB replied that his son had to serve his NS first. It also said Jonathan Tan was classified as a defaulter and urged him to return as soon as possible.

After coming back to Singapore, he enlisted for NS on Jan 8 last year.

A separate case involving Mr Isaac Tan, who has since returned to Singapore after defaulting on NS, is still under investigation.

Jonathan Tan will be appealing against his sentence, and was offered $10,000 bail. For remaining out of Singapore without a valid exit permit, he could have been jailed for up to three years and fined up to $10,000.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, as defence minister in 2006, said in a ministerial statement on NS defaulters that the Constitution was amended in 1979 so that those who refused to serve could not escape their NS obligation by simply renouncing their citizenship.

He added: "Only those who have emigrated at a young age and have not enjoyed substantial socio-economic benefits are allowed to renounce their citizenship without serving national service."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline '28-year-old jailed 16 weeks for evading NS'. Print Edition | Subscribe