Sunday 22 December 2013

Singaporean jailed for stalking US singer online

Victim left with post-traumatic stress disorder after six years of threats
By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2013

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.

'He kept me in a virtual prison'
By Khushwant Singh, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2013

AMERICAN opera singer Leandra Ramm endured a six-year ordeal, during which Colin Mak Yew Loong not only cyber-stalked her, but also threatened her life.

Her story, documented in her book entitled Stalking A Diva, and in an episode of the television show My Life Is A Lifetime Movie broadcast in November last year, was retold in court by District Judge Mathew Joseph when he read out a statement from her.

Ms Ramm, 29, said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and had considered suicide as a result of what the 38-year-old Singaporean inflicted on her.

''For six years, Mak kept me in a virtual prison, causing me to lose my freedom, self-worth, self-respect, ability to work, and ruining my personal relationships,'' she said. ''Mak stole not only the best years of my youth, but my innocence and hopes.''

Ms Ramm even worked on a cruise ship from 2009 to 2011 to prevent Mak from contacting her but to no avail. ''Even in the middle of the ocean, I could not escape the living nightmare,'' she said. ''His daily stalking and harassment consisted of not only threats to the life, health and safety of myself, colleagues, friends and family, but (were) also of an extremely damaging and explicit sexual nature.''

Mak's harassment also caused her financial ruin. Her earnings dwindled as she was afraid to perform in public. She also spent an ''exorbitant'' sum to engage lawyers, private investigators and crime experts. Her ordeal led her to set up her own non-profit organisation, The Alliance Against Cybercrime, to reform laws on international cyber harassment.

She also told The Straits Times that she had a tough time bringing her harasser to justice. She hired the Mainguard private investigation agency here in 2009 to locate Mak, a process that took two years. Mainguard managing director Ponno Kalastree said:

''Police can easily access the national database or find out who owns an IP address.''

However, it is impossible for individuals or private companies to have access to this database because of confidentiality concerns, he explained.

When Mak was finally identified in April 2011, the police advised Mr Kalastree that it was an intentional harassment case, which was a ''non-arrestable offence'', and suggested that Ms Ramm file a magistrate's complaint instead.

She was too afraid to come here to file the complaint and approached Mr A.J. Fardella, a certified data forensic examiner in the US, for help, and he got the Federal Bureau of Investigation to seek the assistance of the police here.

Singapore police arrested and charged Mak later that year.

In an e-mail yesterday, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said that a thorough investigation by the police revealed ''there was sufficient evidence to prove that Mak had committed various offences that are triable in Singapore''.

Three senior lawyers in Britain told Ms Ramm that this case was the world's first successful prosecution of a transnational cyber harasser.

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