The trial of a British expat in Singapore who provoked national outrage for repeatedly refusing to wear protective face masks in the tightly-controlled city state opened on Thursday with a tense hearing in which he called the charges “preposterous” and “disgusting.”
Benjamin Glynn made headlines in May after a video capturing him without a face mask onboard a busy train went viral. Local media outlets later reported that Glynn became confrontational towards police officers who showed up at his home to arrest him.
Wearing face masks in public areas is mandated by law in Singapore, which is currently in a partial lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 after multiple clusters of infections emerged recently. Glynn is facing multiple charges, including failing to wear a mask and threatening public servants. For each COVID-related charge, he faces jail time of up to six months and could be fined up to $10,000. He also faces harassment and public nuisance charges, which carry longer sentences and additional fines.
But the 40-year-old British expat doubled down in the bizarre court appearance, in which he ranted about the charges against him, saying they don’t apply because he is a foreigner.
“Why have the mask regulations been dropped all over America and Europe? Because they are unconstitutional,” he said, according to Channel News Asia, whose reporters were present in the courtroom. He also referred to himself as a “sovereign,” refused to enter a guilty or not guilty plea, and was represented by a man whom prosecutors say did not have the license to practice law in Singapore.
Adding to the confusion, Glynn’s supporters turned up and applauded as he made various points, earning rebukes from police officers.
Singapore, famed for its strict rules, pandemic controls and zero tolerance towards misbehaving foreigners, deported a dozen foreign nationals last July for breaking social distancing rules. A group of British citizens were fined thousands of dollars and barred from working in the country after they were caught intermingling among tables while drinking at a bar, while other Brits received similar harsh punishments for chartering a private yacht and partying on an offshore island last year.
In Glynn’s case, state prosecutors highlighted his past behaviour in earlier court proceedings in which he either refused to put on a mask or failed to wear one properly. “The accused's behaviour in court speaks for itself,” deputy public prosecutor Timotheus Koh told the courtroom.
Judge Eddy Tham eventually requested that Glynn be brought to the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric evaluation. Tham cited a letter from Glynn’s family reporting “increased hostility” towards them, as well as his past and present behaviour in court as key reasons for the decision. He added that it would be “prudent” to assess Glynn to ensure that he was of sound mind and was capable of making his defence.
Glynn disagreed with his decision.
"I assure you, my mind is very sound,” he was quoted as saying. “What law have I broken? I asked you three times the last time, you gave me silence, silence, silence.”
He also reportedly claimed that he had been “tortured” in prison after being “kidnapped and abducted” from a hotel by police officers. “They've stolen my passport, my God-given right to travel. What kind of justice is this? This is preposterous,” he said.
Despite his defence, observers say he is unlikely to be let off easily given heightened sensitivities around flouting public health rules during the pandemic.
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