M Ravi in Nigeria to campaign against execution

August 22, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Human rights lawyer Mr M Ravi is presently in Nigeria to get support for the campaign to prevent the execution of Mr Amara Tochi.

Mr Ravi has appeared ‘live’ on a morning talk show, met with civil society leaders, and held press conferences to alert the Nigerian community of the impending hanging of Mr Tochi and South African Nelson Malachy.

The Singapore lawyer is scheduled to meet with the Attorney-General of Nigeria. He will also brief editors of all the newspapers across the country as well as hold discussions with representatives from the External Affairs Ministry. Mr Ravi is alerting his listeners to the possibility of stopping the execution by taking the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Singapore’s mandatory sentencing to death of drug peddlers runs against international law.

In this present case the trial judge, Mr Kan Ting Chiu, made the finding that “There was no direct evidence that [Tochi] knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith [Tochi’s supplier] had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out of his own.”

Judge Kan said of the case against Mr Malachy that “…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…”

The two African men were nevertheless convicted and sentenced to death. The appeals process has been exhausted and the only recourse is for the President to grant them a pardon.

The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), an influential NGO in Nigeria, has taken up the matter and is working with Mr Ravi to urge the Nigerian Government to take the case before the ICJ (see statement below).

In the meantime, Mr Ravi has met with Tochi’s brother Uzonna whom the lawyer describes as “completely overwhelmed” by his brother’s impending death. Uzonna has been fasting and praying in church since he heard of Tochi’s fate. He does not want to let their father know (their mother died when they were young) as the 87-year old’s health is frail and the news might cause the elderly man’s death.

Note: There will be public forum to discuss the case this Sunday, 27 Aug 06 at Asia Hotel, Scotts Rd at 2:30 pm. For more information, please see Announcements on the Home Page.

PRESS STATEMENT OF THE CIVIL LIBERTIES ORGANIZATION (NIGERIA)

The Death Sentence on Tochi Iwuchukwu: A Gross Miscarriage of Justice by Singapore

The Nigeria Government Must Rise to This Urgent Occasion to Save The Life of its National From Unlawful Execution in a Foreign Land!

Ladies and gentlemen of the Press,

We welcome you to this briefing.

We have invited you today to bring to your attention the very disquieting case of gross miscarriage of justice by the justice system of Singapore leading to the imposition of the death sentence on Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a 19-year old Nigerian citizen following his conviction on charges of ‘Misuse of Drugs’ in a trial that clearly amounted to a travesty!

Iwuchukwu was condemned in March 2005 by the high court in Singapore, after he was found guilty of transporting 727.03 grams of heroin into Singapore and is currently awaiting execution following the death sentence pronounced on him.

The Civil Liberties Organisation is deeply concerned by the very high and grim possibility that unless we all act to prevail on the Nigerian government to urgently and decisively intervene to save his life, Tochi may be unlawfully executed in September by the authorities of Singapore.

Since this matter was brought to our attention, the CLO has written to a number of government officials, including the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of External Affairs and the Senate President, urging them to urgently take up this matter with the authorities of Singapore to ensure that at the best, Tochi is released or, at the worst, his sentence would be commuted to prison terms. But we are yet to receive any reply or seen any action from any of these quarters.

We have recognised the need to involve the media based on our belief that this matter needs to be publicised and put in the front burner in order to mobilise public opinion and galvanise the Nigerian government into frantic action. We therefore, hereby appeal for your support in this campaign to save a life.

Already Mr Ravi has been conducting campaigns in Europe and South America with a view to mobilising global opposition to this possibility of a barbaric extermination of the life of an innocent lad.

A lot of people in Germany and the media are very concerned about this case. Not only that there is reasonable doubt in the judges verdict, there are also a lot of points that show a very high probability that Tochi is innocent. Even though Tochi is not a German citizen, a lot of Germans as well as the media there have taken notice of the case and feel that there is a big miscarriage of justice that must be stopped.

We are all under an extreme time pressure in the case and it is very important that Nigeria escalates this case to the International Court as soon as possible.

Background

Tochi was on a trip from Pakistan to Singapore when he was arrested at the Changi Airport 27 November 2004 on allegations of transporting heroin into Singapore. The Singaporean human rights lawyer, Mr M Ravi told the court Tochi did not know the pills he was shipping contained heroin. He thought he was bringing in medicines.

According to Mr M Ravi, the court of appeal in Singapore had dismissed the appeal filed against the sentence of the lower court paving way for the execution of this lad. Poor enough, the possibility of granting clemency by the president of Singapore is very slim, almost an impossibility.

“There has 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,” Ravi stated.

For instance, German national Julia Bohl, who was convicted for drug trafficking in 2002, escaped the gallows in Singapore when she was released from prison and exiled in 2005.

The law in Singapore “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 accused person”.

During Tochi’s trial, the Judge Mr. Kan Tin Chiu made the following findings at paragraph 42 of the judgement (2005) SGHC233:

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

As Mr Ravi informed us, the law on the possession of drugs are heavily weighted against the accused as evident in Tochi’s case. There is no right to pre-trial discovery on the accused statement or admission. The accused must discharge the heavy burden of rebutting the presumption that he had the drug in his possession and must establish his innocence. Where he could not establish his innocence, he is convicted, no matter the extenuating circumstance.

The laws have been applied inconsistently in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner leading to unwarranted executions of persons charged with drug offences. Usually, an accused can be convicted on uncorroborated evidence of a co-accused. Confession alone sometimes obtained under a questionable situation could ground conviction of death sentence. Most unfortunate is the fact that the courts have openly declared that they have no jurisdiction or powers to reopen a case even when fresh evidence showing the accused to be innocent is adduced before the execution. Once the accused is in possession of 15 grams of heroin, death sentence is mandated.

It is not contestable that Singapore is a sovereign state with ample powers to make, execute and interpret her laws through her courts and tribunals. However, the laws of a sovereign state that is part of the comity of nations must conform to international standard of civilized practices. The trial of an accused person, much more that of a national of another state, must conform with the standards of fair trial as stipulated in Article 14 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The situation demands more circumspection where it involves the right to life, being the supreme and most fundamental of all other rights.

Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR mandates that death penalty where it is unavoidable, could only be carried out with the strictest compliance with due process safeguards and fair trial observance. Article 6(6) provides an avenue for State Parties to abolish the Death Penalty with a call for positive measures on the part of the States to ensure the sustenance of the right to life.

The UN General Assembly in 1989 by a resolution guaranteed the right of persons not to be executed and obligated state parties to take all necessary measures to abolish the Death Penalty within their jurisdiction. Significantly, in the case of Boyce and Joseph vs. The Queen, the Privy Council with the concurrence of four law lords noted “No international human righs tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human right norm”.

Though the Government of Singapore had in the past and even now stated that “death penalty is primarily a question for the Sovereign jurisdiction of each country”, Professor Alston, a UN special rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Execution, had replied the Singaporean Government that “matters relating to the functioning of the criminal justice system are legitimate matters of international concern when questions of non-compliance with international standard are involved”.

Concerns

CLO wonders at the justification for making drug offenders pay with their lives, especially as no study has proved that the death penalty reduces crime. In Iran, nearly 2,000 people were reportedly executed for drug offences between 1988 and 1999; a report by the country’s official news agency IRNA observes that in spite of the executions, the problem of drug trafficking had not been resolved.

Singapore, in particular, has come under special criticism for its harsh death penalty laws. More than 420 persons have been executed there since 1991, the majority for drug trafficking. Singapore is believed to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world. CLO believes that the best way to deter crime is to increase the certainty of detection, arrest and conviction.

The CLO notes that growing pressure from civil society groups for a total abolition of the death penalty forced the Nigerian government to initiate a national debate on whether or not to retain the death sentence. Singapore has no room for such debates. Amnesty International said in a report: “There is usually little public debate in Singapore about the death penalty, partly as a result of tight government controls on the press and civil society organisations.”

Moreover, the Singaporean government rarely grants clemency for drug traffickers, Ravi and Amnesty said, making more urgent the need to keep up international pressure to save the life of Iwuchukwu Tochi.

The Civil liberties Organisation has discerned that there are human rights and jurisprudential issues arising from the death sentence handed down on Tochi Iwuchukwu:

1. The standard of fair trial and due safeguards were not complied with.

2. The procedure for the trial was fraught with contradictions and cannot be said to be dependable and reliable.

3. The executions are discriminatory based on political and racial considerations.

4. The oppressive standard of proof which is, guilty until the accused proves his innocence is not in conformity with the universal standard of the accused being innocent until the prosecution proves its case against him, thus occasioning an irredeemable miscarriage of justice on the accused. The statement of the judge in the judgement has buttressed the fact that there was doubt and that the accused did not have the knowledge of the fact that he was in possession of the drug, heroin. Therefore, there was no mense rea or criminal knowledge, which would have made the accused culpable. The doubt expressed by the judge should have been resolved in favour of the accused.

5. Furthermore, the facts of his being a non-Singaporean citizen, a first offender and of 18 years at the time of the commission of the alleged offence are enough extenuating circumstances to make the government of Singapore to commute the death sentence to imprisonment.

Calls

The CLO hereby calls on the Nigerian Government to take urgent and decisive steps to ensure that the life of its citizen is saved from an oppressive and murderous judicial system.

The Attorney General and Minister for Justice must immediately initiate proceedings at the International Court of Justice to challenge this blatant violation of international standard of fair trial.

The Minister of External Affairs should open up diplomatic talks with the authorities of Singapore through its mission in Nigeria and through Nigeria’s mission in Singapore.

The leadership of the National Assembly should direct the relevant committees of the National Assembly to liase with and trigger action at the National Human Rights Commission, the West African Bar Association and the United Nations to pressure the government of Singapore to stop the execution of Tochi.

The government must undertake with utmost urgency these and other actions aimed at mobilising civilised international opinion against the impending execution, which together with the processes that led to it, violate basic international norms.

It is instructive that when the 20-year old German girl, Julia Bohl, found herself in Tochi’s shoes, her government rose to the occasion and showed an example of what a sovereign nation should do for its national. The German girl was sentenced to death in 2002 for possessing 700 grams of cannabis, but owing to intense pressures from the German Government, the Singaporean authorities commuted her death sentence to five years imprisonment. She was later released on July 15, 2005 on grounds of good behaviour. There is no reason the case of Tochi should be different.

The CLO is confident that if the Nigerian government shows similar concern for its national by embarking on frenetic and decisive actions it will save the life of its own national.

Already, Tochi’s lawyer has been undertaking actions, including organizing the media information and the campaign in Germany to fight against the death sentence passed on Tochi.

Germany has proved some years ago that it can be successful to put international pressure to Singapore government and Germany has succeeded in getting its citizen Mrs. Julia Bohl away from a likely mandatory death sentence.

It would be a big disappointment to see that countries like Germany take more serious interest into Amara Tochi than Nigeria itself and we urge the Nigerian government to take up this case in order to save Tochi’s life. The media can help to draw government’s attention to this by widely publicising this case in the interest of justice.

Thank you for your attention