Book review: Hung At Dawn (2005)

 ()Charles Tan

27 Dec 05

Author: M Ravi

Publisher: Orion Books

“Is he still maintaining that an innocent man can be hanged because of procedure?”

“Yes, the answer is yes.”

Hung at Dawn is an account of three death penalty cases in Singapore detailing exposing the inadequacies of police investigations, courtroom trials and the clemency pleas that prefers to err on the side of hanging convicts.

The book cover resembles one of those sensational best-selling Singapore ghost stories series, coated in black with big, red imposing fonts and a spine-chilling title. The book is, however, far from being fictional. The stories are not fairy tales but real-life events.

The book starts with the arrest, investigation and trial of Vignes Mourthi and his close friend, Moorthy Angappan. It reads like a detective novel which, unfortunately, does not have a satisfactory ending that we would have liked to see.

The books main character, R Martin, a defense lawyer, who took on Vignes Mourthi case last-minute and worked on a pro bono basis, filed for a criminal motion, and tried to put to pieces surrounding the case together to show there might have been the miscarriage of justice.

One controversy surrounded an informer by the name of Tahir who had set up a sting operation which led to the arrest of Vignes. In the trail itself, Tahir was not produced as the prosecution’s witness. Another point involved an undated and dubious statement from the arresting officer’s pocketbook that described how Vignes had boasted about the quality of the drugs he was carrying.

The book also describes how Martin submitted pleas for clemency to the president, in the hope of saving the accused from the gallows. Unfortunately, they did not manage to avert the execution.

Another inmate on death row, Shanmugam s/o Murugesu, was convicted in a much simpler case. The million-dollar question revolved around the amount of drugs he was caught with, which he claimed, was more than what he agreed to smuggle. Unlike Vignes’ case, R Martin and friends wised up and campaigned for Shanmugam by holding vigils and concerts to raise awareness about the issue.

The third death penalty case which generated the most controversy involved Ngyuen Van Tuong, a Vietnamese-Australian. The matter was, however, not related in greater detail because it occurred at about the time the book went to press. Press release and statements, however, highlighted the unfairness of the laws and the system.

By using side-box inserts to provide background information on the mandatory death penalty in Singapore as well as the history and cruel facts of hanging, author M Ravi has written a convincing book on why Singaporeans need to be aware of the controversies surrounding the death penalty in Singapore. For too long, it has remained a non-issue. It is time to break the silence.

Do a politically courageous deed this festive season. Buy, read, and share this book as a gift for your friends and family. Spread the word.

Hung At Dawn is available in major bookstores Singapore. It will also be launched in Malaysia and Australia.

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