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4 months’ jail for S’porean who defaulted on NS obligations after living abroad since age 11

SINGAPORE — Despite his lawyer’s impassioned argument that his father had kept him in the dark about having to serve National Service (NS), a district judge said on Wednesday (June 17) that Remington Fhang Lim’s lack of knowledge was “not a lawful excuse” to default on his obligations.

4 months’ jail for S’porean who defaulted on NS obligations after living abroad since age 11
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SINGAPORE — Despite his lawyer’s impassioned argument that his father had kept him in the dark about having to serve National Service (NS), a district judge said on Wednesday (June 17) that Remington Fhang Lim’s lack of knowledge was “not a lawful excuse” to default on his obligations.

Lim, a 28-year-old Singaporean, was sentenced to four months’ jail for remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for more than eight years. 

He had pleaded guilty to one charge under the Enlistment Act, with another charge considered for sentencing.

Lim was born in Singapore and lived here till he was 11 years old. He moved to Australia in 2003 with his parents and became an Australian citizen five years later.

When he belatedly learned in 2016 that he needed to serve NS, he voluntarily returned to the Republic in 2017 and completed it in April this year, his lawyer Danny Quah told the court.

Previously, Lim’s father had been communicating with the Ministry of Defence’s Central Manpower Base (CMPB) about Lim’s NS liabilities, but did not tell him about this.

Lim found out he had failed to fulfil his obligations only when he tried to renounce his Singapore citizenship in 2016, Mr Quah added.

The lawyer from Providence Law Asia, who took Lim’s case pro bono, also revealed that Lim’s father was a Malaysian and his mother was from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. 

This meant they were “unfamiliar with the concept of NS”, he said. 

WHAT HAPPENED

The court heard that Lim’s parents, who were also former Singaporeans and now both hold Australian citizenship, took the family Down Under in 2003 after Lim completed his Primary School Leaving Examination.

Lim then studied in Sydney, completing his university studies in 2014.

Prior to leaving Singapore, he had been issued two Singapore passports that were valid consecutively from 1992 to 2005. He used them to travel to and from Singapore on several occasions, as well as to Malaysia to visit his relatives.

From his time growing up here and from meeting other Singaporeans who had migrated to Australia, he was aware that Singaporean males had to serve NS when they reach about 18 years old, Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Zu Zhao told the court.

When Lim turned 16-and-a-half years old in June 2008, notices were sent to his Singapore address telling him to register for NS online and report to the CMPB. His parents were renting out their flat at the time.

Their real estate agent forwarded the registration notice, reminder and further reporting order to Lim’s Australian address. Lim’s father then told him he had received them.

In December 2008, the older man told the CMPB that Lim intended to renounce his Singapore citizenship.

A week later, CMPB asked for supporting documents and told Lim’s father that the holding of foreign citizenship did not absolve male Singaporeans from their NS obligations.

The CMPB eventually rejected the application for Lim to defer NS till he was 21 years old, pending his renunciation, and said he had committed an offence.

When Lim failed to report for NS in April 2009, CMPB told his father that his appeal for deferment was unsuccessful and that Lim had been classified as an NS defaulter.

The older man did not respond after CMPB advised that Lim report there to resolve his offences. Lim then turned 18 in December 2009.

In May 2016, Lim — then aged 25 — applied to renounce his Singapore citizenship. He had not done so earlier as he was focusing on his university studies between 2010 and 2014.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority then told Lim that the Government was withholding his application. 

Three months later, Lim called the NS Call Centre to ask about his NS status and CMPB replied to him through email.

He then reported for enlistment in March 2017.

DID NOT DELIBERATELY IGNORE OBLIGATIONS: LAWYER

In mitigation, Lim’s lawyer, Mr Quah, sought the maximum fine of S$10,000 for Lim, saying he had not deliberately chosen to ignore his NS obligations and did not know of his personal liability to serve NS till 2016.

At the time, he had been working for two years after graduating and was about to get married. 

He nevertheless returned to serve NS in the Singapore Civil Defence Force and lived in a church during that time, as he has no relatives or ties here. That was where he met Mr Quah.

“While he knew that Singaporean males had to enlist for NS, it was his belief that NS was to train men to defend the country, so that all men could take up arms in defence of Singapore if it were ever under attack.

“Having left the country and living away, obtaining citizenship in a different country, he thought that this then would no longer apply to him as he would not be around to defend Singapore anyway,” Mr Quah argued.

When Lim was meant to enlist in 2009, he was sitting for the equivalent of the A-Level examinations and his father did not want to worry him, said Mr Quah.

While sentencing Lim, District Judge Ong Luan Tze told him it was “commendable” that he had returned but that the higher courts have “explicitly stated that claims of a lack of knowledge are not a lawful excuse”.

“This must be correct given the very strict policy of NS taken by this country… It may seem harsh to an offender who voluntarily surrenders, but I think it’s best to reiterate the very high priority placed on the issue of national security in Singapore,” the judge added.

Lim could have been jailed up to three years, or fined up to S$10,000, or both.

In a statement on Wednesday, a defence ministry spokesperson said that 14 individuals, including Lim, have been sentenced to jail terms after the High Court set out a sentencing framework for NS defaulters in 2017.

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