ST censors Anthony Yeo’s defence of death penalty lawyer

The letter below was sent to the ST but was not published.

Straits Times Forum

Dear Sir,

I am surprised that the efforts of lawyer M. Ravi in getting the death sentence lifted for drug trafficker Shanmugam Murugesu have come under
fire by his legal colleagues (ST, May 15).

It would appear from the reaction of the various legal colleagues that M Ravi was seeking publicity for personal gains in his attempts to be part of a concerted effort to appeal for clemency from the President.

My observations informed me otherwise.

The efforts of M. Ravi has been aimed at helping the two sons and other of Shanmugam Murugesu to garner support for a last ditch attempt at having the death sentence be reduced to life imprisonment.

This laudable involvement of M. Ravi should be applauded as he like many of us are aware that the manadtory death sentence has long been accepted as an inevitable punishment for durg trafficking.

In the process Singapore has earned the distinction of being one of the few nations in the world that has a high rate of death sentences imposed.

The recent article “Death sentence? Let judges decide” (ST, May 9)containing views by two legal authorities, K.S. Rajah and Associate Professor Michael Hor had highlighted the need to review our practice of imposing the death sentence.

What I believe M. Ravi had done is simply to be part of a this voice from concerned people appealing that the government review the practice of mandatory death sentence.

In this instance, the appeal for clemency for Shanmugam Murugesu provides a platform for giving weight to this voice.

It has also been said that getting the sons and mother involved in the process could be damaging to them as M. Ravi would be giving them false hopes as claimed by the various lawyers.

This is a rather unfair criticism as M. Ravi did not act alone although he had invested much time for this cause at his personal expense.

As a mental health professional it is my belief that no one should be denied the opportunity to have hope of any kind. By involving the sons in the appeals they were given the opportunity to do whatever they could to fight for their father’s life.

This can only help with their grief as the death sentence of their father can only become a life sentence for them as they will have to live with the stigma of being sons of a condemned man for the rest of their lives.

At least now the sons can release their father without any need to suffer the guilt of having done nothing for him in a situation they have absolutely no control over.

It must also be acknowledged that a death sentence may put away one life that is supposedly a danger to sociiety, but has disturbing long term consequences for next-of-kin as well.

In light of what has happened including the discussion calling for a review of the death penalty, I would join in appealing that we stop further sentencing and execution where death penalty is mandatory and consider the views expressed.

There is no need to impute motives, political or otherwise to those who are calling for a review of the death penalty, even if the recent forum on death penalty had opposition party members involved.

As a member of the forum speaker to offer a mental health perspective to the issue, I was reasonably surprised at the capacity crowd that turned up at the forum, including folks involved in civil society movement.

It would seem that they were concerned enough to be present to render support to the sons and mother of Shanmugam Murugesu.

I was hopeful that the forum could be the beginning of more public discussion on this matter and urge the legal profession to take initiative in bringing about change to mandatory death sentence instead of being critical of the efforts of their colleague M Ravi.

Anthony Yeo
Clinical Director
Counselling and Care Centre

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