SINGAPORE - After watching American opera singer Leandra Ramm perform on television in 2005, Colin Mak Yew Loong contacted the 20-year-old and promised to help further her music career.
When she stopped replying, the Singaporean responded by sending her threatening e-mail and voice messages for the next six years.
These were often vulgar and included threats of violence using weapons such as an AK-47 rifle and a lead pipe. It left her facing a post-traumatic stress disorder and financial difficulties.
Yesterday, the 38-year-old Mak was sentenced to three years in prison for "cyber-stalking" the 29-year-old Ms Ramm, whom he had never met, and two other victims. The 38-year-old jobless man was also fined $5,000 for three unrelated offences.
District Judge Mathew Joseph called the matter an "abhorrent case of cross-border cyber-stalking", telling Mak: "The virtual Internet in your criminal hands became a lethal weapon. It was used as a weapon of massive personal destruction in the real world of your hapless victims."
He said Mak's actions were a perverse form of "mental assault" and "emotional terrorism" as he repeatedly and aggressively intruded into the singer's personal and professional life.
His virtual threats, noted the judge, were deliberate and involved "sinister sophistication".
Mak, who ran a photography business, also sent threatening e-mail messages to German national Siegfried Geyer - the boyfriend of a Hungarian musician he became obsessed with after seeing her perform in Singapore - and local businesswoman Liew Hwei Ken, an employee of a firm he believed had stolen business from him.
Judge Joseph considered a medical report by the Institute of Mental Health which indicated that Mak probably had an anti-social personality disorder and "narcissistic personality traits".
Yet, the man's threats against his victims were "vile and vicious" and revealed a "dark side" which was "repugnant and offensive", said the judge.
Prosecutors had called for a stiff deterrent sentence for Mak, who pleaded guilty on Dec 4 to 14 charges of criminal intimidation and three of harassment, criminal trespass and theft in dwelling. Another 25 charges were taken into consideration.
Noting that steps to bring culprits of online harassment and cyber-stalking to justice may be "too little too late", Judge Joseph also highlighted the need for better protection of potential victims. "This case is a timely reminder that harassment laws need to keep pace with changes in technology and the pervasive use of the Internet and social media," he said. "There is a clear need to have adequate and effective protection for victims who are vulnerable."
The judge also cited a recent survey by government feedback arm Reach. This showed that more than 80 per cent of 1,000 Singaporean residents surveyed viewed online harassment as a serious issue, with a similar number indicating that they wanted tougher measures in place to deal with harassment, whether it takes place online or offline.
Last month, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said his ministry is preparing legislation to better protect people against online harassment that will be tabled by early next year.
The maximum penalty for criminal intimidation where the threat is to cause death or grievous hurt is a jail term of 10 years and a fine.
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