A U.S. businessman could become the first American sentenced to caning in Singapore in 16 years if convicted of breaking the city-state’s immigration laws, a prospect that has drawn the attention of U.S. officials.
Kamari Kenyada Charlton, 37 years old, a U.S. citizen born in the Bahamas, has been charged by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore for overstaying his three-month tourist visa by 169 days. He has been in custody since Sept. 1, when he was arrested at Singapore’s Changi Airport trying to leave the country.
Mr. Kamari—as his attorney calls him in correspondence with Singapore officials—hasn’t entered a plea. In a court filing, he acknowledged overstaying, citing bad advice he received while in Singapore from a person he met on the street.
Mr. Kamari’s lawyer, M. Ravi, said his client is facing a mandatory three strokes of the cane and a jail sentence if found guilty. Singaporean officials have declined Mr. Ravi’s request to consider commuting the potential sentence to a fine. Mr. Ravi said this has been the case with some other offenders, including a relative of Mr. Kamari’s wife who overstayed in Singapore for 194 days, but settled the issue by paying a fine of 500 Singaporean dollars (US$382).
Mr. Ravi said he plans to take the case to Singapore’s High Court on grounds of discrimination, contending Mr. Kamari faces different treatment.
“We have decided to take out an outstanding summons at the High Court in relation to the discrimination that Mr. Kamari is facing and challenge the mandatory caning as well,” Mr. Ravi said.
Mr. Ravi said Mr. Kamari arrived in Singapore with his wife on Dec. 15, 2009. His wife was seeking medical treatment after two miscarriages. She is now in the Bahamas expecting a baby girl. Mr. Kamari runs a construction business in the Bahamas. Mr. Kamari entered Singapore on a three-month tourist visa and his wife on a six-month medical visa.
The Singapore police said any queries on the matter should be addressed to Singapore’s Prison Service, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Officials at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority couldn’t be reached Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. Embassy in Singapore said it is watching the case.
“The U.S. Embassy is closely monitoring the case and Embassy officials have provided consular assistance to this individual, including five visits by consular officers. We remind U.S. citizens that foreigners in any country are subject to the laws of that country. We respect Singapore’s right to try and sentence individuals within due process of law,” the embassy said.
Despite protests by human-rights groups, Singapore sometimes sentences those convicted of charges including vandalism and overstaying a visa to caning. In August, Swiss citizen Oliver Flicker got three strokes of the cane and a seven-month jail term for breaking into a train depot and spraying graffiti on a train.
Singapore boasts one of the lowest crime rates and highest standards of living in the world, but human-rights groups often criticize the government for excessive punishments, such as hanging drug dealers.
The last time an American was caned in Singapore was in 1994, when teenager Michael Fay got four strokes of the cane and four months in jail for vandalizing cars and public property despite appeals for leniency by then U.S. President Bill Clinton.