'Badge lady' Phoon Chiu Yoke withdraws bid to travel to China; prosecution calls her a flight risk
SINGAPORE — A woman who stands accused of failing to wear a face mask in a public place, after having already been jailed for a similar offence in the past, had a request to leave Singapore rejected by a district court on Monday (Sept 12) because her travel documents were not in order.
- Phoon Chiu Yoke sought the court's permission to leave Singapore for China
- A district judge rejected the request because Phoon was unable to furnish details of her travel itinerary
- The prosecution also objected to Phoon's request because they viewed her as a flight risk
SINGAPORE — A woman accused of failing to wear a face mask in public, after having already been jailed for a similar offence last year, withdrew her request to leave Singapore on Monday (Sept 12) because she was unable to furnish the court with details of her travel itinerary.
Phoon Chiu Yoke, 55, earlier sought the court’s permission to travel to China via Hong Kong on Sept 7.
The request by Phoon was put in hours after she was given two charges of failing to wear a face mask earlier this year. The offence took place twice at the Mandarin Gallery mall along Orchard Road on March 6, including when she was walking by a Victoria's Secret lingerie shop there, court documents stated.
She was also given a third charge under the Infectious Diseases Act of failing to attend an investigation hearing convened by the Singapore Tourism Board on March 31.
Phoon told the court at the time that she had already made her travel plans before she was informed about her latest charges.
These charges came a year after Phoon was jailed 16 weeks for repeatedly refusing to wear a face mask in public places.
On Monday, District Judge Lorraine Ho told Phoon that since she was unable to provide a detailed travel itinerary, she would not be able to approve Phoon's application to leave the country, to which Phoon said that it was not pertinent to her case.
Phoon told the court last week that she only intended to travel for leisure, but on Monday, she said that she was also planning to travel to China for business, which the prosecution responded by saying that it was not informed of this earlier.
When asked by the judge to clarify if she intended to travel for business or leisure, Phoon said without elaborating: "When I travel, it is to update my photo portal that I run for myself and also, in some instances, for charity purposes. So you can say it is partially business."
As to the lack of details in her travel plan, Phoon said that there were certain arrangements she was unable to make in Singapore, and that she also preferred to keep it "flexible" by not making too many hotel reservations in advance.
In any case, the prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecution (DPP) Jane Lim, said that they objected to Phoon's travel request because they viewed her as a flight risk.
DPP Lim said that Phoon is neither employed in Singapore nor does she own any property here and is now staying in a rented apartment alone.
"We also note... (that) while she has family members in Singapore, they consist of aged parents and a brother, and she does not stay with them," DPP Lim said, adding that there were also discrepancies in the travel documents that Phoon had provided to the court.
Moreover, since the purpose of Phoon's travel request was for leisure and tourism, DPP Lim said that there was no necessity to grant it.
Phoon objected that she was a flight risk and stressed that she has a "good standing reputation" as an ex-military officer, and there was no reason for her to leave and not return to Singapore.
"If I really had wanted to leave the country, I would have left without (asking) for travel authorisation," she said.
"I would like to reassure you I am not creating this trip because of this hearing... This trip had been planned way before the charges were presented to me... I am not running away from this case."
Phoon, who ultimately withdraw her request to leave the country, was dubbed the “badge lady” by online users last year after video footage of her asking a safe distancing ambassador why she had “no badge” went viral.
At the time, the former naval officer had broken Covid-19 regulations by not wearing a mask at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.
Videos of her at other places, including at Clarke Quay Central mall, also circulated on social media and messaging platforms.
When she turned up at the State Courts last year, she was filmed taking her mask off outside the court premises and smiling at press photographers.
Failing to wear a face mask in indoor public areas has been illegal up until two weeks ago, when masks were made optional everywhere except on public transport and at healthcare institutions. People also had to wear masks outdoors until March 29.
Phoon’s latest alleged offences first surfaced when social media influencer Wendy Cheng, popularly known as Xiaxue, posted an Instagram Story about bumping into a woman believed to be Phoon along Orchard Road.
Phoon told the court on Monday that she intends to plead guilty to these charges.
Those convicted of repeatedly flouting Covid-19 laws can be fined up to S$20,000 or jailed up to a year, or both.
When Phoon was sentenced to jail on Sept 6 last year, she pleaded guilty to several charges of not wearing a mask in public as well as leaving her hotel room while on a two-week stay-home order.
The court heard that she was unemployed, having retired from the Republic of Singapore Navy in 2002. She last held the rank of major.
Her offences spanned more than a year from May 2020 to June 2021.
She was first issued a S$300 composition fine for failing to wear a mask at Newton Food Centre, having told National Environment Agency officers that she did not know what Covid-19 was. She ultimately did not pay the fine.
On June 2020, she flew to London, England and had to serve a stay-home notice at Marina Bay Sands. However, she repeatedly left her room without a mask and claimed that she had a right to use the hotel amenities after paying S$2,400 for the stay.
She also did not wear a mask at least three times at St Andrew’s Cathedral near City Hall MRT Station.
She remained unmasked throughout a worship service and told the church’s head estate manager that she did not need one.
At Clarke Quay Central in December 2020, she tried to enter through an office tower but was stopped.
She asked security guards where it was stated that she had to wear a mask and later questioned the authority of safe-distancing ambassadors.
She also said that she was an army commander and once drove a tank, and that they had no right to ask her to wear a mask.
A video of her challenging them went viral, which showed her saying things such as, “Don’t treat me like I don’t know the law… I want you to understand the damage you’re doing to Singapore’s image”.
As for the MBS incident on May 15 last year, she entered the mall without a mask and later challenged a safe-distancing ambassador, asking: “Who are you representing? Where is your badge?”
She then left and went to a Toast Box cafe without a mask.
A video of her there went viral as well. It showed her asking the ambassadors: “You have no badge; who are you representing? You are not the police… I say to you, if you have no badge, don’t speak to me. You have no right to say anything.”
Related topicscourt crime phoon chiu yoke badge lady mask breach Covid-19 travel
Read more of the latest in