Man jailed 16 weeks for burning Singapore flag at Woodlands block; 7 other flags caught fire

SINGAPORE — While heavily intoxicated, a 26-year-old man decided to set fire to a Singapore flag hanging along the corridor of a block of flats along Woodlands Crescent, where he lived.

Remnants of the burning flag fell, leading to seven other flags hung at lower floors getting damaged.

Elson Ong Yong Liang was sentenced to 16 weeks, or about four months, of jail time on Monday (July 27) for his actions, after pleading guilty about a week ago to one count of mischief by fire.

Two other such charges, related to other instances of him setting things on fire, were taken into consideration for sentencing.

The court heard that Ong went drinking at a pub along Selegie Road on Aug 3 last year, a few days before National Day on Aug 9.

At about 5.30am the next day, he took a Grab car home while extremely drunk. It was not stated how much alcohol he had drunk.

He arrived at the Housing and Development Board block where he lived at about 6am, then stood in front of a 13th-floor unit and decided to light a cigarette.

It was not stated if he lived on that floor.

When he noticed a Singapore flag hung along the outer walls of the block, he decided to set it on fire with his lighter.

Several hours later around noon, a 48-year-old man residing in the unit near where Ong had stood smoking called the police to report the burnt flag.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Kor Zhen Hong sought six months’ jail, reffering to aggravating factors such as public disquiet.

Members of the public passing by “would be quite concerned” if they saw the burning flag, DPP Kor added.

However, he acknowledged that no one had reported that the flag was burning at the time.

Ong’s lawyer, Mr Gino Hardial Singh, said that his client’s actions were “reprehensible” but asked the court to take into account some mitigating factors for sentencing.

He referenced an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) report, which stated that Ong during his teenager years had developed a habit of burning paper when stressed.

He would usually gather flyers at void decks of public housing blocks and burn them in incense bins or grass patches.

A psychiatrist noted that this was a “mild adaptive coping mechanism” to stress, Mr Singh told the court.

Court documents showed that Ong had set fire to newspapers outside another flat on April 4 last year, which destroyed the newspapers, a cupboard and fuse box.

In another incident on an unknown date, he placed his lighter against a metal barricade at a lift lobby causing a construction sign sticker pasted on the barricade to catch fire.

Mr Singh, who asked for three months’ jail instead, said that Ong had learned his lesson and “is now on the right path”.

He had been abused by his father at a young age and his parents divorced when he was six years old, the lawyer added.

In response, DPP Kor said that the IMH report “clearly gives an opinion that he does not suffer from pyromania”. Individuals suffering from it cannot control their impulse to set fire to things.

He was likely drunk and this is generally an aggravating factor, the prosecutor said.

Ong could have been jailed up to seven years and fined.



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