Media continue to censor death penalty counter-arguments

Singaporean anti-death penalty activist Mr Dominic Chua recently wrote a letter, responding to the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s (MFA) statement. The MFA had issued the statement in response to the United Nation’s appeal to Singapore not to hang Mr Nguyen Van Tuong.

Like with many other arguments against the mandatory death sentence meted out to small-time drug peddlers, Mr Chua’s letter was not published by the local press. Singaporeans are fed only the Government’s views.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Statement

There is no international consensus that capital punishment should be abolished. At the most recent meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 66 countries dissociated themselves from a CHR resolution calling for the abolition of capital punishment.

Singapore maintains that capital punishment is a criminal justice issue; it is the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to include capital punishment within its criminal justice system.

On this occasion, Mr Alston grossly misrepresented the facts in claiming that the Singapore Court of Appeal “considered a range of cases decided by the Privy Council…[but]…failed to examine the most relevant case of all” i.e. Boyce and Joseph v. The Queen. That case was in fact cited by Mr Nguyen’s lawyers in their written arguments and the Court of Appeal dealt with it in its judgment. We note also that Mr Alston did not disclose that he cited the minority judgment in Boyce and that the majority in the Privy Council upheld the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Barbados.

We regret that Mr Alston has attempted to mislead the public. In doing so, he diminishes the credibility of his office.

Mr Alston is the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Mr Nguyen was tried and convicted in an entirely open, fair and transparent manner, according to due process of law, as has been acknowledged by the Australian Government. Therefore this case does not fall within his mandate.

Mr Alston has on several previous occasions attempted to exceed the limits of his office in criticising judicial executions in Singapore. His purpose in doing so has been to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, which is clearly beyond the mandate of his office.

We have previously protested Mr Alston’s abuse of his office and will continue to do so as necessary.”

16 NOVEMBER 2005

Dominic Chua’s letter responding to the MFA statement

Dear Editor,

The MFA reply to Philip Alston’s call for the Singapore government to refrain from carrying out the mandatory death sentence was nothing short of puerile, because it completely missed the point that Alston was making. A quick juxtaposition of the 2 key paragraphs from the UN Press Statement and MFA’s response reveals this to any person with the smallest capacity for critical reading.

Philip Alston’s main contention clearly concerns the mandatory nature of the death penalty: “Making such a penalty mandatory – thereby eliminating the discretion of the court – makes it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case…the adoption of such a black and white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake. Once the sentence has been carried out it is irreversible.”

MFA’s chief argument, on the other hand, inheres in this line: “Singapore maintains that capital punishment is a criminal justice issue; it is the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to include capital punishment within its criminal justice system.”

At no point in the UN press release does Alston question a country’s right to retain the death penalty. What for him is the nub of the matter is whether or not the death sentence is binding once certain crimes are committed. Singapore is perfectly entitled to have the death penalty, as far as Alston is concerned – but not to make it compulsory.

MFA’s response is thus the sort of red herring gaffe that one might reasonably forgive in a JC student’s GP essay, but which is thoroughly embarassing in a formal government reply – not only because it makes a mockery of the Singaporean claim to be able to think critically, but also because it trivialises Alston’s comments and, implicitly, Nguyen Van Tuong’s life.

Yours sincerely,