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September 25, 2003
Singapore has dramatically escalated the use of the death penalty this year with the execution rate roughly triple that of the previous three years, the government has revealed.
In a rare comment about the death penalty, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told the BBC in an interview on yesterday’s Hard Talk program that up to 80 people had been executed in the first nine months of this year.
“I think probably it will be in the region of about 70 to 80. I do not know the precise number, I stand to be corrected,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview released by the Singapore Government.
The Government attached a note to the transcript saying 28 people had been executed in 2002, 27 in 2001 and 21 in 2000, without giving confirmed figures for this year.
When asked why he did not know exactly how many people had been executed this year, Mr Goh replied: “I have got more important issues to worry about.
“Each execution comes to the cabinet and we look at it. If we decide that a certain person has got to be executed, he is executed. I don’t keep count.”
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been long-time critics of Singapore’s death penalty rules, which apply for a range of crimes including drug trafficking, murder and treason.
But Mr Goh brushed off the criticism that the death penalty was cruel.
“If you don’t punish them and they manage to get their drugs through to Singapore, more people would be punished by their acts,” he said.
Singapore authorities do not normally publicise the details of individual executions and groups such as Amnesty have complained that getting information on capital punishment cases is difficult.
Singapore has a reputation for a relatively low crime rate compared with other Asian nations.
Amnesty said in its annual report for 2003 that the city-state had one of the highest execution rates in the world, relative to its population of about 4.2 million people.
SDP’s note: A few questions need to be asked: One, is the death penalty actually the cause of the so-called low crime rate in Singapore? Two, is violent crime actually lower in states that carry the death penalty or are there other factors (such as the state of the economy, efficiency of the criminal justice system, etc) at play? Three, why is there zero debate in Singapore on this literally life-and-death issue?