'Badge Lady' withdraws application to travel abroad after prosecution's objection

Phoon Chiu Yoke arriving at the State Courts on Sept 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Phoon Chiu Yoke, who is better known to netizens as the "Badge Lady", withdrew her request to be allowed to leave Singapore for Hong Kong and China after the prosecution objected to her application in court on Monday.

The prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim, said there was a risk that Phoon, 55, would not return for the next court date and flagged gaps in the itinerary she had submitted.

Phoon, who was jailed for 16 weeks last year after she failed to wear a mask in public places including at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), had on Sept 7 sought the court’s permission to travel abroad. 

That same day, she was handed three charges, including for failing to wear a mask while walking along Orchard Road on March 6. She was also charged for failing to turn up for a related investigation.

Wearing masks outdoors became optional only from March 29.

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Objecting to Phoon's travel request, the prosecution said there is a chance Phoon will not return to Singapore as she is not currently employed here and does not own any property.

DPP Lim said: "She is staying in a rented apartment alone. While she has family members here – her parents and her brother – she does not stay with them."

There is no urgent need for Phoon to travel as she had indicated that it is for leisure, said DPP Lim.

Phoon may have to serve quarantine orders when she travels to her intended destinations but had not prepared the necessarily permits to enter China, she noted.

Phoon had also not provided any documents on how she intends to travel between Hong Kong and China, the DPP added.

District Judge Lorraine Ho said that it was not the court's role to police whether Phoon was aware of the Covid-19 restrictions abroad, but said that she needed to consider whether Phoon would encounter any difficulties in even being able to travel to her destinations.

Phoon, who was not represented, said she had made all the checks she needed for her travels and was certain she did not need to serve any quarantine orders as long as she was vaccinated and tested negative for Covid-19.

She added that she did not have any documentation showing how she was going to leave Hong Kong for mainland China as she intended to book a ferry or take a train, which could not be done online. 

She said she was not a flight risk, adding that she had "a good standing reputation as an ex-military officer".

She added that investigations for her latest charges had not commenced.

After a short adjournment in the morning to show the judge the websites she claimed to have checked that she would not be required to serve quarantine in China, Phoon said she wanted to travel for leisure and business, but that her itinerary was not relevant to court proceedings.

The prosecution noted that it was not aware of Phoon's business plans, adding that there are visa requirements to enter China for business.

Judge Ho said: "Your application for both countries is for leisure and there was no indication that you were going for business."

She added: "The court needs to know the exact reason and purpose of your trip... I've already asked you to (provide the details) needed in the last hearing, but I can't seem to find your documents to be complete."

Phoon said: "The trip was meant to be flexible. When I travel, it is also to update my photo portal that I run for myself, and in some instances, for charity. So you can say it is partially for business."

Judge Ho suggested Phoon file another application when her itinerary is in order, to which Phoon agreed and withdrew her request after repeated exchanges in court.

When asked by the prosecution, Phoon added that she intended to plead guilty to the offences and provide a mitigation. She will return to court on Oct 14.

In last year's proceedings, the court heard that she joined the Republic of Singapore Navy in 1990 and held the rank of a major before she retired in 2002.

Phoon first made headlines when she was caught on video not wearing a mask at MBS on May 15 last year.

The clip, which went viral, showed her telling safe distancing ambassadors: "Who are you? Who are you representing? Where is your badge? Show me your badge."

She was hauled to court later that month and handed five charges under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

Phoon has since completed serving her earlier jail sentence.

First-time offenders who breach laws under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000.

Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $20,000.

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