Stop unlawful execution of Africans: M Ravi

The following is an appeal to the international community launched by human rights lawyer Mr M Ravi, urging the international community – in particular the Nigerian and South African Governments – to take action to stop the unlawful hanging of Amara Tochi (Nigerian) and Nelson Malachy (South African) in Singapore.


The High Court in Singapore had imposed Death Sentence on Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi. 19, a Nigerian and Okele Nelson Malachy, 33, who is stateless (from South Africa).

On the 16th March 2006, the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeals. As a last resort, they can file appeal for clemency to the President. It is clear from previous clemency petitions that the President hardly grants clemency.

In Singapore, “the law presumes that a person caught in possession of prohibited drugs knows that he is in possession of some drugs, with the burden of rebutting the presumption on the person charged.”

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi thought that he was carrying African herbs that tasted like chocolate. On 28 November 2004, he was arrested at the Changi Airport transit lounge with heroin. He had with him 100 capsules of heroin weighing about 727.02 grams.

Tochi was arrested for allegedly carrying heroin while Malachy was nabbed in a subsequent police operation after Tochi identified him as one of his companions. The court in Singapore handed the death sentence after a 13-day trial. It is disturbing to note that the learned trial judge himself having raised reasonable doubts proceeded to convict them.

Against Tochi the trial judge Mr.Kan Ting Chiu made the following finding at paragraph 42 of his judgment [2005] SGHC 233:

“There was no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorhine, or that he had found that out of his own.”

Against Malachy, the trial judge made the following finding at paragraph 61 of his judgment:

“Although there was no direct evidence that the accused knew that the capsules contained drugs, and there is no presumption of such knowledge raised against him…”

According to Amnesty International 2005 report. Singapore has the highest rate of executions per capita in the world. Most of the executions arise from trafficking of drugs and the laws have been applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.

Unjust Criminal Laws in Singapore

The criminal laws of Singapore are completely weighted against the accused for example; confession alone can be relied upon in sentencing a person to death. Also, there is no right to pre-trial discovery on accused statements or admissions.

It is almost impossible to rebut the presumption where the burden is reversed on the accused to prove his innocence. Further, accused person can be convicted solely on the uncorroborated and unsupported evidence of the co-accused. Also the courts here have declared they have no jurisdiction or powers to reopen a case even if there is fresh evidence adduced before execution. In one case, which I argued on the eve of the execution asking for a retrial, the then-Chief Justice who presided the case maintained that an innocent man can be hanged in Singapore due to procedural matters.

Singapore practices Mandatory Death Sentence in that it takes away the discretionary powers from the judges in precluding them from looking into extenuating and particular circumstances of the individual cases. Once the accused is convicted of trafficking eg: 15 grams of heroin, death sentence is mandated.

Recent campaigns against mandatory death sentence in Singapore

In the recent case involving an Australian, Van Nguyen Tuong, 25, who was ruthlessly hanged in Singapore amidst international criticism, I filed a complaint to the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston against the mandatory death sentence imposed on Van Nguyen.

In response, Mr Alston a press release condemning the mandatory death sentence imposed on Van Nguyen as being unlawful under International law.

Although less than half the world’s nations support death penalty (including Nigeria) very few of them practice mandatory death sentence. A former Singapore High Court judge had argued recently that the practice of mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional in Singapore.

I have been extensively campaigning along with other civil society groups in Singapore against the mandatory death sentence in the past. Recently, I was the counsel for two high profile cases where my clients were executed despite my eleventh hour appeal applications in court taken out on the eve of the execution on grounds of miscarriage of justice.

Prejudice against African nationals in Asia

There have been a spate of executions of African Nationals across Asia, which had gone unnoticed. The Australian and Western counterparts get different treatment in the media eg; German national Julia Bohl who was convicted for trafficking drugs escaped the gallows in Singapore. McCrea, an Australian charged for committing double murder in Singapore received clemency even before his trial commenced. Last week, McCrea’s double murder charges had been reduced to one of manslaughter.

It is important that, the international community and the media stand united in lending their voice to protect our African brothers from being treated in a discriminatory manner as executions of Africans rarely get the attention of the international or local media. Also many young African males are lured to Asia by attractive sports and athletic deals but end up being exploited as petty drug traffickers.

Appeal to take immediate action

In this sprit, I also appeal to the African nations and civil societies across Africa to appeal to Nigeria and South Africa to bring the present matter to the International Court of Justice and challenge the mandatory death sentence imposed against Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi and Okele Nelson Malachy. I repeat that the mandatory death sentence in Singapore was declared unlawful by the UN in November 2005. I am prepared to lend my assistance to Nigeria and South Africa to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice and to argue the case.

I will continue to network with International organizations like American Bar Association, Amnesty International, and Australian Coalition against Death Penalty to highlight this grave situation in Singapore and I will carry the campaign across Europe, African and Asia to abolish the mandatory death sentence in Singapore.

I also urge all the anti-death penalty activists and like-minded Singaporeans to join hands in support of the upcoming campaign to prevent the impending and unlawful execution of the two Africans.

In Peace,

M Ravi

Lawyer, M Ravi & Co


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