Three reasons against the death penalty

January 28, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Charles Tan
27 Jan 07

Tochi's final letter to his lawyer, M Ravi. In this handwritten letter, Tochi said, 'Thank you for all your efforts.' He also wished Ravi a 'happy new year.'By 6 am, January 26 2007, the Singapore government has claimed another two lives by hanging Nigerian Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi who was 21 and a stateless African named Okeke Nelson Malachy, 35 to death.

Names, date and time mean nothing much on paper. Words cannot express the cold and barbaric truth of the capital punishment. A non-event for a large part of the Singaporean population, of whom, many are mostly ignorant of the the executions or the issues underlying the executions.

Not for the people who turned up outside Changi Prison though.

The death penalty has certainly upset me to the extent that I was compelled to take a vociferous stand against it. In my humble opinion, it has no place in any modern and civilized society.

That was the reason I turned up at Speaker’s Corner and Changi Prison to protest against the execution of Tochi. When I knew that Siok Chin and Ravi were on a hunger strike, I decided to join in as well.

All the inconveniences and discomfort brought about from the strike and staying up overnight for the vigil was insignificant compared to the injustice of the sentence meted out to both men on death row. Moreover, by participating in the vigil, it has given me more time to think about the death penalty while increasing my resolve against it.

Let me give you three basic reasons why I was motivated to sacrifice my time and effort to take that stand that the death penalty is draconian and has no place in any modern society.

Firstly, it contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The third article of UDHR states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.

Tochi's red soccer jersey hung outside of the Changi prison during the vigil. A 19-year-old Nigerian, he hoped to play football for Singapore when he was arrested at the Changi airport on 27 Nov 2004.In addition, the death penalty does not solve social problems or act as deterrents. There are plenty of research which support this claim. Amnesty International US has compiled statistics revealing how the death penalty, instead of being a deterrent, has a brutalizing effect. Read: http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish/deterrence.html

Henceforth, in my humble opinion (again), Mr Lee should have done his homework before replying to Mr President Olesegun Obasanjo when he said he has “a duty to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans, and protect the many lives that would otherwise be ruined by the drug syndicates.”

But most importantly, the death penalty is irreversible. It subjects its victims to procedures and protocols that are in itself either inflexible (in this case, carrying a certain amount and type of drugs in Singapore carries a mandatory death sentence) or subject to plausible human errors, misjudgments and mistakes.

Be reminded that in Tochi’s case, one of the judges who convicted him had said that Tochi “might not have realised that the substance he was carrying was heroin”.

And these are just some of the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished, which has been further magnified in Tochi’s case.

While the death penalty is sadly very much a non-issue in Singapore, the fight to abolish the death penalty is not yet over. This vigil has clearly demonstrated that there are Singaporeans who are not fooled by the official rhetoric. One can hope that the anti-death penalty movement will gain strength and numbers as it progresses