S’pore anti-death penalty group challenges Nigerian’s execution

January 22, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Press message on the pending hanging of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi in Singapore

It is with great sadness that we compose this press message regarding the death sentence on Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, to be hanged at dawn on 26th January after a lengthy, lonely and soul-destroying imprisonment.

Tochi was arrested for allegedly carrying heroin into Changi airport in November 2004. He was 19 years old when he was arrested.

The court in Singapore delivered the death sentence after a 13-day trial.

Tochi has been waiting in maximum security section of Changi prison from 2004 until today. His family in Nigeria believed until July last year that he was playing football for a Singapore football team.

Tochi was indeed a champion footballer who played in Nigerian state league championships. He claims he was tricked into trafficking drugs to Singapore on the promise of being able to play for a club here.

It is particularly disturbing to note that trial judge himself raised reasonable doubts in Tochi’s case, mentioning that it was entirely possible that Tochi did not know he was bringing in drugs to Singapore–before proceeding to convict him and pass the mandatory death penalty.*

At a time when the Singapore prison system has a renewed emphasis upon rehabilitation, and when the Yellow Ribbon campaign asks us to give even seasoned criminals a second chance, can we not find it in our hearts to extend this to a person who–if he indeed is guilty–made a desperate mistake at the age of 19?

The death sentence for drug trafficking in Singapore continues to be “mandatory”, which means that judges are not able to take into significance and mitigating circumstances (such as the age and general naivity of the accused) when passing their verdict.

And at a time when even the hangings of persons responsible for mass killings and genocide, such as Saddam Hussein and his cronies are being regarded with disgust by the world at large; are seen as reproducing the criminal cruelty of the original perpetrators, is it not time that we in Singapore reconsider our stance on the repeated, mandatory hanging of small-fry drug mules?

Signed,

Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign

* Tochi was arrested in Changi Airport in November 2004. He claims he was carrying herbal medicine for a third party, at the behest of his “friend”, Mr Smith. According to Tochi, Mr Smith befriended him months earlier and advised him to approach football clubs in Singapore.

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 diamorphine, or that he had found that out of his own.”

The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) comprises a concerned group of Singaporeans from diverse backgrounds who have come together over the issue of the Death Penalty. Through a series of debates and events we hope to foster a public debate on the practice of capital punishment in Singapore and throughout the world.

Nigerian to hang in Singapore after clemency rejected
The Associated Press
19 Jan 07

Singapore was set to hang a 21-year-old Nigerian convicted of heroin trafficking a week from Friday, a human rights group said, urging Nigeria’s government to intervene.

Amara Tochi Iwuchukwu is to be executed Jan. 26 at Singapore’s Changi Prison after the Southeast Asian country’s president rejected his clemency appeal, according to a statement from Nigeria’s nongovernment Civil Liberties Organization, or CLO.

A letter from Singapore’s Prisons Department informed Iwuchukwu’s family of the execution and said the department would allow him extra visits in the three days before he is executed.

His family lives in Nigeria.

Iwuchukwu was caught after arriving from Dubai at Singapore’s Changi Airport in November 2004 with 100 capsules containing 727 grams (26 ounces) of heroin, estimated by authorities to be worth 1.5 million Singapore dollars (US$970,000; €795,930).

The rights group said that Iwuchukwu’s trial was marked by “irregularities,” and that it has made several unsuccessful appeals to the Nigerian government to intervene in the matter.

“While the CLO recognizes the right of the Singaporean government to punish any person within its territorial jurisdiction for any act which constitutes an offense in Singapore, we insist that international standards of justice and due process of law must be observed,” the statement said.

Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry could not be reached for comment Friday, and did not immediately respond to e-mailed questions.

Also convicted and on death row in the same case is Okeke Nelson Malachy, 35, a stateless African. Malachy was arrested after his picture was shown to Iwuchukwu, who identified him as the person to whom he was supposed to deliver the drugs.

It was not immediately clear whether Malachy’s clemency appeal had also been rejected.

Singapore’s Prisons Department did not confirm the execution date when contacted Friday. It had earlier said in an e-mailed response to questions that “as a policy, Prisons Department does not release information on when executions would be carried out prior to an execution.”

At the time of his arrest, Iwuchukwu told narcotics officers the pills were African herbs that he was supposed to give to a sick friend. He also told officers that he came to try out for soccer teams playing in the country’s Singapore League.

Singapore has some of the world’s harshest drug laws, including a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 15 grams (0.5 ounces) of heroin.

The city-state caused an outcry in Australia in December 2005, when it executed a 25-year-old heroin trafficker from that country despite numerous appeals from Australia’s government.

Human rights group Amnesty International has said Singapore has the world’s highest per capita execution rate. The country’s leaders say the tough laws and penalties are an effective deterrent against a crimes that ruin lives.

The Nigerian High Commission in Singapore helped Iwuchukwu file the appeal for presidential clemency, and is in regular contact with his family in Nigeria, a consular officer said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.