Singapore must not bow to external pressure

December 13, 2005
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

Dear Dr Chee,

I live in Singapore and I feel that I must convey what is my personal opinion of the matter.I cannot hope to comprehend the pain and the anguish that Van’s mother and brother are feeling over the situation, and I make no attempt at dismissing Australians’ feelings over the execution of their fellow citizen.

After all, where death sentences are involved, there will be raw emotions involved, and rightly and understandably so.However, please think for a moment just how far Australians have come to this stage of thinking. It was not too long ago that Australia itself was executing people.

Whilst the act is now seen as barbaric, not too long ago, it was, I assume, acceptable and unquestioned in large sections of Australian society.Just as Australia was allowed to find its public consensus in abolishing the death penalty, so too must Singapore.

I think that the writings here about Singaporeans being wholly ignorant of the matter are false. Singaporeans, like myself, are concerned about the matter and the fact that I am surfing this news site shows that I do know both sides of the story.

The fact that there are Singaporeans who are opposed to the sentence and who have set up websites arguing so also serves to dispel the myth that Singaporeans are uncaring and robotic people.However, I do believe that a line needs to be drawn between what are clearly two separate schools of thought.

The death penalty, on its own, does not breach international norms; not too long ago, the US govt, the world policeman of human rights (and other many issues), was itself executing minors. That does not make it inherently right, but it goes to show that, as a matter of international legal principle, there is nothing against the use of the death penalty.

Therefore, it would be incorrect to insist that Singapore has exceeded its sovereign right to impose its laws on those who enter its jurisdiction (and it has every right to say that itsairport is part of its jurisdiction). Singapore has given Van full acces to its legal and appeal process, and now that that process is exhausted, the course is run and the options are finished.

Van knew what he was getting himself into, and he chose to do it, and the law must be imposed.The other issue about the moral righteousness of the death penalty is not to be taken lightly – but the possible future option of abolishing the death penalty must be a decision taken by Singaporeans themselves, and not by yielding to external pressure.

I am of the opinion that so long as Singapore does not breach any international norm, it is entitled to make up its own mind over the use of the death penalty – just as Australia, not so long ago, itself decided to end the use of the death penalty.

At times like these, it is easy to read what I have written as trivialising the life of one manand having state interests outweigh the anguish caused to his family. Believe me, I have no intention of doing this. But Singapore has seen it fit to impose its laws for what it sees as a important concern. If the laws are bent over a foreigner, when will the floodgates close?

From the view of a Singapore resident, I would be appalled that differing standards are being applied. Furthermore, many of the mitigating factors can apply to other condemned inmates as well – there will be relatives who will be very sad, beyond my comprehensive most definitely; the condemned prisoner would repent, etc. But given that these are common mitigating factors in all death penalty cases, if this case were to be reversed because of these factors, when will the line be drawn?In the end, we are all sad.

It is not an easy decision to have to make. Whilst my sympathies go out to Van and his family, Singapore must have the sovereign right to impose its laws on whoever comes within its jurisdiction, provided that they do not breach any international norms.

CHRIS

SDP: Dear Chris,

Why do Singaporeans such as yourself need to surf the Internet to get news about controversial national issues like the hanging of small-time drug peddlers? The overwhelming majority of the people get their news from newspapers and the television, and not from the Internet.

Have you asked yourself why the local media puts in so much effort to black out arguments against executing drug carriers? Why can’t the Straits Times and other local newspapers publish both sides of the debate and let the people read and decide for themselves? Singaporeans who are opposed to the execution should not be limited to setting up websites.

They should be allowed to campaign freely – including having their views published in the newspapers, holding protests, expressing themselves through art and music, etc. All these are banned in Singapore. How can Singaporeans be “allowed to find its public consensus” on the matter if they don’t have the means to express themselves? In Australia, the people have the freedom to campaign openly, without fear. The Singapore Democrats agree with you that Singaporeans are not uncaring and robotic.

But they are fearful because of PAP intimidation and are not allowed to express themselves. We have not argued that Singapore had exceeded its sovereign right to execute the late Nguyen Van Tuong. What we argued was that Singaporeans do not have the political freedom to campaign for the law to be changed or abolished. We hace appealed to the international community to help us build democracy and for it to bring pressure to bear on the PAP to to stop executing small-time drug couriers while doing business with with druglords in Burma. This brings us to your point that Singapore cannot yield to external pressure.

The truth is that Singapore has repeatedly and exclusively yielded to external pressure, as opposed to pressure from Singaporeans themselves. The Government reduced the sentence of the American teenager, Mr Michael Fay, after pressure from US President Bill Clinton.

The Singapore Government reduced the charges of Ms Julia Bohl (she was due to be hanged in convicted of trafficking marijuana) after the German Government intervened. The lifting on the ban on bungee jumping, bartop dancing, Cosmopolitan and chewing gum were lifted as a result of pressure, directly or otherwise, from the international community.

Unlike external pressure, however, Singaporeans don’t have the means to pressure the PAP into amending laws. And yet, we are the ones who supposedly give the PAP its power. You said that you “would be appalled that differing standards are being applied.”

And rightly so. This is why you should write to the newspapers to ask why Ms Julie Bohl served only three years and Singaporean Shanmugam, who had served in the army and represented Singapore in sports, was executed for carrying the same drug, namely, marijuana?

But don’t be surprised if the newspapers don’t publish your letter. Perhaps then our point about Singaporeans not being allowed to reach a consensus on such executions will become clearer to you.