S’poreans kept ignorant about death penalty problem

January 16, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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The local media has again played down international criticism of its boss (as if this was news). Today (see report below), in its usual style of mixing reporting with opinion, tried to take out some of the sting in the Amnesty Internationals (AI) report of the death penalty in Singapore.

The newspaper wrote that While some 400 people had been executed here since 1991 – not a large number by international standards – the fact that Singapore’s population is tiny meant that its rate of executions per one million population was extremely high.

What it omitted was that even in real numbers Singapores execution figure stands at an overall sixth in the world. With a population that must surely be one of the worlds smallest, this standing is shocking, not to mention shameful. In descending order, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Nigeria executed more people than Singapore over the same period.

In further trying to protect the PAPs reputation, the Today report cum op-ed piece wrote: Of the 340 people executed here between 1991 and 2000, some 247 were hanged on drug-related offences. In other words, more than 70 per cent of the executions in Singapore over the past decade was a result of its tough stand on drugs.

The report then quoted a lawyer: “Many countries do not impose the death penalty for drug-trafficking. If you discount those who were hanged for drug offences, Singapore’s numbers are not all that high.”

What Today deliberately failed to mention was that AI had focused on this issue over several paragraphs of its report and, more important, it completely censored AIs finding that many of these drug-related executions were not carried out against big-time drug barons and traffickers but drug-addicts and small-time offenders who are often the poor and marginalized of our society.

Yes, we need to deal with drug offenders and deal with them strictly. But how is killing small-time offenders going to eradicate the problem? Its like trying to mop up the floor while leaving the tap on.

Besides, the Government itself has said that it uses the death penalty “sparingly and only for the most heinous crimes.” Having the highest execution rate in a world of more than 150 countries and 4 billion people of which Singaporeans constitute less than 0.001 percent hardly allows us to say that we use capital punishment sparingly. And how does one equate someone possessing drugs with having committed a most heinous crime?

This Governments quote was prominently displayed at the very beginning of AIs report. It would be quite a feat for anyone to not see it. And yet, the reporters made absolutely no mention of it. Nor did it report AIs finding that Many were hanged after being found in possession of relatively small quantities of drugs.

Through omissions and slanted reporting, the newspaper has given Singaporeans a very different picture of the AI report and the serious questions confronting capital punishment in Singapore. Still, it has fared better than our ol faithful, The Straits Times, which hushed everything up. Ditto Channel News Asia. And yet, newspapers all over the world including those in Italy, the UK, US, Australia, Asia as well as all the major news networks (CNN, BBC, and even Al Jazeera) and wire agencies carried the news.

What does this mean? People everywhere are at least aware of this very Singaporean issue everywhere, of course, except Singapore. And the PAP expects Singaporeans to compete in the world?

Why is the PAP so afraid of open debate? Why does it insist on keeping information and dissenting views from the minds of the ordinary folk? How will that help Singaporeans become a more questioning, analytical and thinking people – skills exceedingly important in a globalised, entrepreneurial world?

This episode not only wallops our conscience about the problems about the death penalty in Singapore, it also rubbishes Mr Lee Hsien Loongs promise of a more open society not that Singaporeans took him seriously in the first place.

The hanging question: A matter of life, death, drugs and Amnesty
Today
Jose Raymond and Lee Ching Wern
http://www.todayonline.com/articles/13170.asp

An issue almost as old as Singapore crackled across the Internet and wire services yesterday when London-based human rights group Amnesty International claimed that the Republic had possibly the highest number ofexecutions per capita in the world.

While some 400 people had been executed here since 1991 – not a large number by international standards – the fact that Singapore’s population is tiny meant that its rate of executions per one million population was extremely high.

Between 1994 and 1999, this rate was 13.57, said Amnesty – far higher than second-placed Saudi Arabia (4.65), Belarus (3.20) or China (2.01), though China’s huge population would mean that many more people were executed there.

While Amnesty used the numbers to slam the very concept of death penalty and Singapore’s use of it, one fact leapt up in the numbers that it offered.

Of the 340 people executed here between 1991 and 2000, some 247 were hanged on drug-related offences. In other words, more than 70 per cent of the executions in Singapore over the past decade was a result of its tough stand on drugs.

“Many countries do not impose the death penalty for drug-trafficking,” said one lawyer. “If you discount those who were hanged for drug offences, Singapore’s numbers are not all that high.”

Not that Singapore is apologising for its stern stand. Amnesty itself quoted Law Minister S Jayakumar acknowledging in 2000 that Singapore had among the toughest laws in the world for drug-trafficking and the use of firearms.

But pointing to the results, the minister had added: “Our crime rate has generally been falling for more than a decade now.”

Amnesty reiterated its opposition to the death penalty when it said: “It is high time for the (Singapore) government to seriously re-consider its stance claiming that the death penalty is not a human rights issue.

“But while the debate about the morality of death sentences is a never-ending one, several other facets of yesterday’s report were also eye-catching.

Should death sentences be mandatory? Would easing up on Singapore’s tough laws worsen matters? Were foreigners more disadvantaged by the laws on drug-trafficking? Amnesty seemed to suggest that as it argued that foreigners might not be familiar with the laws of a country they were visiting.

Top criminal lawyer Edmond Pereira, who has defended many clients on death row, said that at least when it came to drug offences, that excuse did not hold. “Everyone is aware of the seriousness of drug offences in Singapore,” he said.

Ironically, the fact that Singapore was so vigilant about drugs sometimes had the opposite effect, he said. Some drug couriers deliberately use Singapore as their transit point.

“In many countries they think that if you’ve come from Singapore, you’ve been through microscopic scrutiny and they let their guard down,” said Mr Pereira. “The drug couriers take their chance transiting through Singapore because if they get through, the rest is much easier.”

Obviously many get caught and Amnesty pointed to the fact that of the 174 executions it recorded in Singapore through press reports between 1993 and 2003, some 93 – more than half – involved foreign nationals.

It argued that the tough laws had not curbed drug-related offences as a total of 3,393 drug abusers were arrested in 2002 – an increase of 16 percent from the previous year.

Countered Nominated MP and lawyer Chandra Mohan: “If the number of drug abusers has increased despite strict legislation, what’s there to prove that it could not have been higher if these strict laws did not exist?”But one point raised by Amnesty was worth considering, according to some lawyers here.

Amnesty opposed mandatory death sentences as they deprived judges the discretion to weigh the evidence and consider mitigating circumstances.Also, a flawed judgement could never be rectified once a person had been hanged.

One lawyer suggested having two judges instead of one in cases involving capital punishment to minimise errors.Added Mr Pereira: “Singapore is perhaps the only country that does not commute sentences but carries each sentence to the letter of the law. There is very little flexibility…”

However, he pointed out that it would be a tragedy if Singapore went in the other diretion with its drug laws and criminals laughed their way out of jail.