Amnesty slams S’pore on death penalty, human rights

25 May 2005

Singapore continues to curtail political expression and still has the world’s highest rate of execution on a per capita basis, human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

In its annual report, London-based Amnesty slammed Singapore’s human rights record, saying that control on political expression in the wealthy Southeast Asian city-state remained tight despite “indications of a possible relaxation” under new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lee, who took over the post last August, has repeatedly called for a more open and inclusive society.

But Amnesty said a “broad array of restrictive laws” remained in place to curtail the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

“The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the ruling People’s Action Party continued to inhibit political life and engendered a climate of self-censorship,” it said.

Singapore leaders say they have a right to safeguard their reputation by legal means.

Although the number of executions carried out in Singapore appears to have halved in 2004, Singapore still has the world’s highest execution rate relative to its 4.2-million population, Amnesty said.

In October, Singapore reported that six people had been executed in the first nine months of 2004, compared with 19 in 2003.

In Singapore, those found guilty of murder, kidnapping, treason, firearm offences and drug trafficking could face the gallows.

Laws enacted in 1975 prescribe death by hanging for anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of carrying more than 15 grams (0.5 oz) of heroin, 30 grams (1.1 oz) of cocaine, 500 grams (17.6 oz) of cannabis or 250 grams (8.8 oz) of methamphetamines.

Amnesty, which advocates worldwide abolition of state executions, has been critical of Singapore before.

In its 2004 report, it said that about 400 people had been hanged in Singapore since 1991, a “shockingly high” figure.

It said executions in Singapore were “shrouded in secrecy” and called on the government to impose a moratorium on all executions.

That 2004 report drew an angry response from the government, which denied Amnesty’s charge that most of those hanged were foreigners from poorer countries.

Singapore does not usually publish statistics about death sentences or give the number of prisoners on death row.