SINGAPORE: Despite knowing that social gatherings were prohibited during the "circuit breaker" period, a man went for dinner at his cousin-in-law's home and flaunted it on Facebook, writing: "We are having (an) illegal gathering ... so what?"
Francis Soh Seng Chye, 38, was fined S$4,500 on Wednesday (May 20) in the first prosecution of a person breaching Regulation 6 of the COVID-19 regulations.
Soh, a private-hire driver, pleaded guilty to one charge of meeting another individual not from his household for a social purpose.
The court heard that Soh had a car-sharing arrangement with his cousin-in-law Lye Bao Ru, who was also a part-time private-hire car driver.
Soh would drive the car in the day and hand over the vehicle to Ms Lye at night.
On Apr 8, a day after the circuit breaker started, Soh met Ms Lye to pass her the keys to their shared car.
Ms Lye invited Soh to dinner at her home, and he agreed, even though both of them knew it was prohibited under the circuit breaker measures.
They had dinner at Ms Lye's home for about an hour, with seven people in total attending, including two of Ms Lye's Malaysian friends who were staying with her due to Malaysia's movement control measures.
Soh took pictures of the dinner and posted it on Facebook, with the caption: "After a long long long long super long day ... we are having (an) illegal gathering ... so what? Enjoy the food to the max."
After he posted this, his friends asked him why he was still having a gathering during the circuit breaker, and one of them reported him to media outlet STOMP.
The post was subsequently reported on other media platforms, drawing public attention, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Chin.
Soh took down his post only after Ms Lye asked him to do so.
HE KNOWINGLY BROKE THE LAW AND FLAUNTED IT: PROSECUTOR
The prosecutor asked for a S$5,000 fine, saying that Soh had committed the offence "at a time when members of society had to make enormous sacrifices of foregoing the companionship of families and loved ones, as that is the responsible and necessary thing to do in the current circumstances".
"It only takes the irresponsible conduct of a few to undo the valiant efforts of many who are doing their utmost to combat the community transmission of COVID-19," said Mr Chin.
Instead of showing solidarity with the rest of the country, Soh's actions "fly in the face of national efforts" to contain the virus, he said.
He said Soh's offence was "particularly serious", as he not only willfully refused to comply with the law, but "mischievously went further to broadcast his defiance on social media".
"Not only would this cause alarm about the health implications of such gatherings, it also mocks and belittles the efforts of those who are abiding by the law, and has the effect of encouraging others of similarly flouting the law," said the prosecutor.
He added that the number of attendees was "significant", with the dinner guests sharing the same food at the same table.
"It's one thing when an accused unknowingly breaks the law - although that's not a defence because ignorance of the law is not a defence - but it's another thing when the accused knowingly breaks the law and when ... he flaunts it," said Mr Chin.
His caption of "we are having an illegal gathering" manifests "his defiance for authority and disregard for the law", said the prosecutor.
Soh, who was not represented, said he admitted his wrongdoing, but said Ms Lye is his cousin-in-law.
He said it was a daily routine for him to visit Ms Lye and his god-daughters.
"The social media thing - yes, it's quite a very childish thing to post that thing," he said, but added that he has always put up "shout-outs" on Facebook.
"I don't challenge the law. Anyway, I'm sorry," he said. He asked for a reduction of the fine, saying he had two children to raise and was the sole breadwinner of his family.
"S$5,000 I think is a lot," he said. "And during this COVID-19 timing, I think business and everything has been affected also, so I hope your honour will show me leniency."
The judge allowed him to pay the fine in instalments by October.
For meeting another individual not living in his household for a social purpose during the circuit breaker, Soh could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.
When asked if the dinner guests will be prosecuted, the Attorney-General's Chambers told CNA: "The matters against Ms Lye and the others have yet to be concluded."