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In March 2005, the Singapore Democrats organised a public forum to bring attention to the imminent execution of Shanmugam s/o Murugesu who was convicted of bringing into Singapore 500g of cannabis. He was hanged two months later.
We are glad to see that since then, the campaign against the mandatory death penalty for drug peddling has grown. The effort to avert the hanging of Mr Yong Vui Kong and future executions must continue.
For one thing, the number of drug-related executions may have seen a reduction although the Government keeps the statistic a secret. (This raises an interesting question: Why is the Government diffident in publicising the number of executions if its intention is to send a clear and no-nonsense message of deterence? Is this because of the negative publicity that the Government wants to avoid?)
This may be due to the publicity given to some of these cases on the Internet. For example, this website helped to drive campaigns against the executions of Nguyen Van Tuong (a 21-year-old Vietnamese-Australian) and Amara Tochi (a teenager from Nigeria).
With human rights lawyer Mr M Ravi the driving force behind the effort, matters reached the highest levels of the United Nations involving Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.
Unfortunately, the mandatory death penalty continues to hold. This is why actions of Singaporeans who want to see the abolition of this senseless taking of the lives of small-time drug peddlers must continue.The SDP’s arguments against these executions have been made repeatedly through the years and will not be repeated in this post. A summary of the main points are presented below. Detailed arguments can be read here, here, and here.
Aren’t these drug traffickers endangering the lives of the public by bringing in illicit drugs? Without a doubt. That is why these criminals must be punished and punished hard. But the punishment must fit the crime. Gambling also brings misery to its victims but we don’t execute casino operators. We even glamorise the vice by legalising it and disguising gaming joints as resorts.
But aren’t drugs addictive and destructive to the body? Again, yes. No one is saying that we allow these drugs in to Singapore. All advocates of the anti-mandatory executions are saying is that we do things rationally and in proportion to the crime. Why do we allow cigarettes that carry addictive drugs like nicotine while we hang people who bring in cannabis? Nicotine and other ingredients in cigarettes cause lung cancer and heart disease. The healthcare industry spends billions of dollars annually treating these diseases.
Isn’t the law made clear to one and all that if you are caught with the drugs in Singapore, the punishment is death? Yes, but the problem is that we only catch smalltime drug peddlers and mules while the drug kingpins continue to operate in safe havens. The Burmese military generals cosy up to drug barons in the country, some of whom may even be laundering their ill-gotten gains in Singapore banks. With the opening of casinos in Singapore, this problem will exacerbate. Yet these Burmese generals come freely in and out of Singapore. Laws must not serve the rich and the powerful and victimise the poor and the weak.
Aren’t laws applied equally to everyone caught with drugs in Singapore? No. In 2002, a German lady, Ms Juila Bohl, was arrested in Singapore with 687g of marijuana on her which would have sent her to the gallows. She was also convicted of consuming the drug ketamine, possession of other drugs, allowing her apartment to be used for narcotics trafficking, and accused of belonging to a drug syndicate that supplied drugs to nightspots in Singapore. But after the German Government mounted a diplomatic campaign and met several senior Singaporean ministers in the process, the amount of drugs she was accused of carrying was reduced from 687g to 281g. She was sentenced to five years in prison but served only three for good behaviour. In contrast, Shanmugam paid with his life for carrying the same drug.
But won’t the judiciary ultimately dispense justice? The law in Singapore states that judges must sentence someone to death if he or she is caught with a certain amount of drugs no matter what the extenuating circumstances are. This is why High Court Judge Kan Ting Chiu sent Amara Tochi to his death even though he found that “There was no direct evidence that [Tochi] knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith [the man who set him up] had told him they contained diamorhine, or that he had found that out of his own.”