SINGAPORE - A student from a top university in Britain who allegedly filmed women while they were inside toilets should not be allowed to leave Singapore, the prosecution argued in court on Tuesday (Jan 14).
This came after the prosecution said it was alerted to text messages last Friday between the 22-year-old Singaporean and a "trusted friend", in which the former discussed his plans to abscond and seek asylum in another country.
According to the prosecution, the conversation occurred before she realised that she was also one of his alleged victims.
In addition, the prosecution also sought for the court to lift its gag order on the student's identity, arguing that it is in the public interest for his identity to be published by the media.
These were the latest developments in the case involving the student, who was first charged with two counts of insulting a woman's modesty in October last year, for filming women using the toilet and taking a shower.
He cannot be named due to a gag order to protect the women's identities. His university's name cannot be disclosed either, as the information could lead to his being identified.
The man, who is represented by lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan, was then granted permission to leave Singapore to go back to the university in October last year.
Last week, he sought for permission from the court to leave Singapore again to return to the university.
He now faces a total of 19 counts of insulting a woman's modesty by filming them using the toilet, showering and changing at various locations from as early as Dec 2, 2015, and one count of possession of obscene films.
On Tuesday, however, the request to leave Singapore was opposed by Deputy Public Prosecutor Foo Shi Hao, who presented text messages that were exchanged between the man and a friend on Oct 2.
In the messages, the man talked about a "masterplan" involving seeking asylum in another country.
In one of the messages, the man said: "I could stay here, but that would be a certain metaphorical death."
When the friend asked if he was certain he would be granted asylum, he replied: "Well, that's in the masterplan."
He also talked about a "decision-making rubric". "Stay for certain destruction... Or leave, and everything is uncertain, but potentially averting this problem," he told the friend.
DPP Foo argued that the text messages showed that the man is afraid of facing justice, and has a carefully considered plan to evade justice.
"As a man with a plan to abscond, we say that he is a flight risk... If he is allowed to leave Singapore again, he will have one more chance to execute his 'masterplan'," said DPP Foo.
He added that this would have a "heavy" impact on the 12 women who have been identified so far as victims of the man's alleged offences.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhi Hao urged the court to amend its gag order such that the man's identity will be revealed to the public, without revealing the nature of relationships between the man and the 12 identified women.
"The gag order only extends to accused persons in very narrow circumstances, where the revealing of the name of the accused would likely lead to the identification of the victim," said DPP Tan.
He added that 10 of the 12 women have requested that the man's identity to be made known to the public.
Of the remaining two women, one was hesitant, while the other has not been consulted at the request of her family, said DPP Tan.
While the pool of potential victims may be narrowed through disclosing the man's name, it remains "sufficiently difficult" to identify a victim, he added.
"The public interest in this case far outweighs the risk to these potential victims... The foundations of criminal justice - transparency and openness - these aims cannot be met if the accused hides behind the gag order," said DPP Tan.
In response, the man's lawyer, Mr Kalidass, argued that his client was undergoing "deep anguish" and experiencing suicidal thoughts at the time of the text messages with his friend.
"He said certain things like he came up with a masterplan. He was in fact alluding to killing himself. That's why the word 'death' was constantly being used," said Mr Kalidass.
The defence counsel added that his client had also talked about having suicidal thoughts with another friend. In one message, he wrote: "I need to die."
Mr Kalidass added that the Samaritans of Singapore, a non-profit organisation that provides emotional support to individuals, had also e-mailed his client the following day to follow up on a call he had made to the organisation about his "very strong suicidal thoughts".
In turn, the prosecution questioned why the man would have discussed asylum in the text messages if he had only intended to kill himself.
District Judge Adam Nakhoda is expected to make a decision on the prosecution's requests on Thursday.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.