The silence about the death penalty is deafening

We re-publish two articles, one written by TheOptical and the other by the SDP, that have much to say about our society’s silence on the disturbing issue of the death penalty as in is meted out in Singapore.

The silence about death penalty is deafening – and disturbing
7 October 2003

Apart from media reports about the case of one Vignes Mourthi who was charged, convicted and hanged for allegedly selling drugs to an undercover officer, there has been not a word from members of the public.

“Why bother?” or “He deserved it!” would probably be the predictable answers from most if not all who have read about the case. But was the general public given enough information to arrive at those answers?

Guilty or not, one has a right to a fair trial and/or even a re-trial an especially in a case where the death penalty is being handed down because you cannot undo death by hanging.

Mr Mourthi, a 23 year old Malaysian, was convicted last September of smuggling 27.65g of heroin into Singapore. His lawyer M. Ravi mounted several court appeals for a re-trial.

The local media had reported that his lawyer “argued that a handwritten police transcript of a conversation between Mourthi and an undercover police officer used as evidence in the original trial should not have been admissible in court.”

Furthermore “Mr Ravi again argued that the prisoner was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice. He claimed that a document – a record of a conversation between Vignes and a narcotics officer – had not been produced at the preliminary inquiry before the trial. The defence was caught by surprise by this document, he said, which the trial judge had relied on heavily to convict Vignes.”

It is obvious to anyone who bothered to read about the case that the judges and public prosecutors were more concerned about procedures rather then seriously considering a re-trial. For instance, in another media report “When Mr Ravi asked the CJ (Chief Justice Yong Pung How) if the public prosecutor was “still maintaining that an innocent man be hanged because of procedure”, the CJ answered: “Yes, the answer is yes.”

In a statement to the court J B Jeyaretnam, whom Mourthi’s father had approached for help, “said that evidence given by a police officer that allegedly recorded a conversation between the accused and himself bore no date and could have been written later.”

You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that there were doubts and inconsistencies in Mourthi’s case.

A re-trial should have been granted in light of all this but it is too late for Vignes Mourthi as our judges and public prosecutors sent him to his death very early in the morning of 26 Sept 2003.

The thing that makes this whole thing even more disturbing is the fact that nothing was said by the members of the public. Not even letters to the ST’s Forum or TODAY. Compare this deafening silence to the “noise” that was created by some members of the public when news broke that Robinson’s Department Store was being sold-off. Some have even gone so far as to mount a signature campaign for a petition against the sale of Robinson’s.

One is left to wonder about the kind of pathetic society we’re living in.

SDP’s reminder: Don’t let this silence continue. Join us at the public forum this Saturday at 2 pm at Hotel Asia.

S’poreans kept ignorant about death penalty problem
16 January 2004

The local media has again played down international criticism of its boss (as if this was news). Today (see report below), in its usual style of mixing reporting with opinion, tried to take out some of the sting in the Amnesty Internationals (AI) report of the death penalty in Singapore.

The newspaper wrote that While some 400 people had been executed here since 1991 – not a large number by international standards – the fact that Singapore’s population is tiny meant that its rate of executions per one million population was extremely high.

What it omitted was that even in real numbers Singapores execution figure stands at an overall sixth in the world. With a population that must surely be one of the worlds smallest, this standing is shocking, not to mention shameful. In descending order, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Nigeria executed more people than Singapore over the same period.

In further trying to protect the PAPs reputation, the Today report cum op-ed piece wrote: Of the 340 people executed here between 1991 and 2000, some 247 were hanged on drug-related offences. In other words, more than 70 per cent of the executions in Singapore over the past decade was a result of its tough stand on drugs.

The report then quoted a lawyer: “Many countries do not impose the death penalty for drug-trafficking. If you discount those who were hanged for drug offences, Singapore’s numbers are not all that high.”

What Today deliberately failed to mention was that AI had focused on this issue over several paragraphs of its report and, more important, it completely censored AIs finding that many of these drug-related executions were not carried out against big-time drug barons and traffickers but drug-addicts and small-time offenders who are often the poor and marginalized of our society.

Yes, we need to deal with drug offenders and deal with them strictly. But how is killing small-time offenders going to eradicate the problem? Its like trying to mop up the floor while leaving the tap on.

Besides, the Government itself has said that it uses the death penalty “sparingly and only for the most heinous crimes.” Having the highest execution rate in a world of more than 150 countries and 4 billion people of which Singaporeans constitute less than 0.001 percent hardly allows us to say that we use capital punishment sparingly. And how does one equate someone possessing drugs with having committed a most heinous crime?

This Governments quote was prominently displayed at the very beginning of AIs report. It would be quite a feat for anyone to not see it. And yet, the reporters made absolutely no mention of it. Nor did it report AIs finding that Many were hanged after being found in possession of relatively small quantities of drugs.

Through omissions and slanted reporting, the newspaper has given Singaporeans a very different picture of the AI report and the serious questions confronting capital punishment in Singapore. Still, it has fared better than our ol faithful, The Straits Times, which hushed everything up. Ditto Channel News Asia. And yet, newspapers all over the world including those in Italy, the UK, US, Australia, Asia as well as all the major news networks (CNN, BBC, and even Al Jazeera) and wire agencies carried the news.

What does this mean? People everywhere are at least aware of this very Singaporean issue everywhere, of course, except Singapore. And the PAP expects Singaporeans to compete in the world?

Why is the PAP so afraid of open debate? Why does it insist on keeping information and dissenting views from the minds of the ordinary folk? How will that help Singaporeans become a more questioning, analytical and thinking people – skills exceedingly important in a globalised, entrepreneurial world?

This episode not only wallops our conscience about the problems about the death penalty in Singapore, it also rubbishes Mr Lee Hsien Loongs promise of a more open society not that Singaporeans took him seriously in the first place.

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