Don’t Want to Wear a Mask? In Singapore, That Could Mean Jail.

A British expat who has refused to wear a mask now faces prison and the ire of Singaporeans.
July 23, 2021, 9:53am
illust
Pandemic-era laws. Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus / wildpixel

British expat Benjamin Glynn has not been shy about his objections to wearing masks in public. He talked about it while riding a busy train. He was quoted discussing it to a British tabloid. And when called into court to explain, he showed up without a mask, leading to a charge for not wearing a mask

Advertisement

Glynn is in Singapore, a place famed for its strict rules, pandemic controls and no special treatment for misbehaving foreigners. 

Last July, Singapore deported a dozen foreign nationals 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 for 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.

This is partly driven by locals who demand fair treatment. Several cases have emerged first on social media from local passersby documenting violations of COVID-19 control measures, which have achieved relative success in Singapore compared to much of the world even as its treatment of migrant workers has come under greater scrutiny. Singapore mandates mask wearing and those caught not wearing masks outside their homes face fines of up to $300 on the first offense. 

Against this backdrop, Glynn’s outbursts—including an alleged encounter with police where he reportedly adopted a “boxing stance”—and seeming lack of remorse for choosing not to wear a mask, are all the more shocking to Singaporeans, and have been widely discussed on Singaporean social media for months.

But he now faces jail time for charges related to his refusal to abide by the COVID-19 protocols. He has since been detained and is awaiting trial. 

Advertisement

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirmed that they were assisting Glynn. Glynn’s lawyer was not allowed into court at first due to improper attire, reported state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia, which did not identify him by name.

For each COVID-related charge, Glynn faces jail time for up to six months and could be fined up to $10,000. He is also facing harassment and public nuisance charges, which carry longer sentences and additional fines. 

Singapore's state court. Photo: Wallace Woon

Singapore's state court. Photo: Wallace Woon

Glynn, who is also a father of two, lamented his plight in comments that appeared in the Daily Mail, where he was quoted saying there wasn’t any evidence masks protected people from COVID and it was all “a hoax.” He also revealed that he was dismissed from the recruitment company he was working for.

“It’s insane that I am facing trial just for not wearing a mask,” he said in the Daily Mail’s report.

The advantages of wearing face masks in reducing the rate of infection have been proven by scientists and global health experts alike. But countries in Asia have not been hit by the same level of anti-mask sentiment afflicting the United States and European nations.

Advertisement

On social media, Singaporeans, along with some expats in the region, reacted with scorn towards videos of Glynn — which have been viewed thousands of times.

But not everyone feels the same. In his home country, fellow anti-maskers in the U.K. have rallied to Glynn’s side, claiming to have raised tens of thousands of dollars in aid to fund his rising legal fees. But with bail revoked, Glynn remains in detention ahead of his August trial. 

“In Singapore, no one is above the law,” said associate law professor Eugene Tan, who also served as a nominated member of Singapore’s parliament. 

The pandemic has also heightened sensitivities around flouting public health rules.

“His case is not helped by the fact that masks are regarded as being vital to public health and if the prosecution proves its case, Glynn will not get away lightly,” he said.  

Follow Heather Chen on Twitter