SINGAPORE: A 24-year-old Thai national who was formerly a Singapore citizen was fined S$6,000 on Tuesday (Sep 18) for defaulting on national service (NS).
This is the first prosecution involving an NS defaulter who is no longer a Singaporean.
Ekawit Tangtrakarn was born in Thailand but became a Singapore citizen by registration when he was one year old.
He mostly lived in Thailand and lost his Singapore citizenship in 2015 when he failed to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty within 12 months of turning 21.
Delivering his judgment, District Judge John Ng said he was "convinced that a custodial sentence is not warranted in this case".
"Imprisonment is not the appropriate sentence to punish Ekawit," he said.
"Much can be said about sending a strong deterrent message to deter potential offenders from evading their obligations or opting to postpone them to a time of their own convenience. However, in the case of Ekawit, making an example of him by sending him to jail for these reasons would be misplaced."
Ekawit was "first and foremost a Thai national or citizen before anything else", the judge said, adding that there was nothing to show that he had intentionally placed his personal pursuits above his obligations or chose to do his NS at his convenience.
The judge also noted that Ekawit had completed his military service in the Thai army, as confirmed by an official letter from the Thai embassy.
"It is incorrect to see Ekawit as a Singaporean boy who had stayed away from Singapore to escape performing NS, or in order to pursue his studies and only returning to serve NS at a time of his choosing," said the judge.
"Ekawit's situation is also different from someone who wants to leave Singapore to become a citizen of a foreign country without fulfilling his NS duties."
He added that the only nation that Ekawit had known and was reasonably expected to pledge allegiance to was Thailand, where he was born and raised.
EKAWIT'S MOTHER RELIEVED THAT "ORDEAL IS OVER": LAWYER
Ekawit pleaded guilty last month to one charge of defaulting on NS, with another charge of being outside Singapore without a valid exit permit taken into consideration for sentencing.
His Singaporean mother Genevieve Lim was the one who contacted the Central Manpower Base after her son had completed his university studies in 2016, saying that he was ready to return to Singapore to face his NS-related offences.
Ekawit's lawyer, S Radakrishnan, had asked for only a fine to be imposed, while Deputy Public Prosecutor Mansoor Amir asked for at least nine weeks' jail.
He could have been jailed for up to three years and fined up to S$10,000 under the Enlistment Act.
After the sentence was passed, Ekawit's mother was visibly emotional and teared. The defence lawyer told reporters on her behalf that she wanted to give "a big thank you to the judge".
"She's very relieved that the ordeal is over and they will go back to Thailand immediately and put this behind them. He is an engineer in Bangkok and his employer is waiting for him," said Mr Radakrishnan.