The court of appeal has dismissed Chijioke Stephen Obioha’s challenge that the death sentence contravened Article 9(1) of the constitution in so far as it amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment. The court held that Singapore’s constitution does not prohibit cruel and inhuman punishment and degrading treatment.
Despite changes to the mandatory death penalty regime in 2012, the court was not prepared to review its previous decision. It also failed to consider the evolving standards of customary international law that prohibit cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment.
According to Singapore Anti-Death Penalty activist M Ravi, the court repeatedly kept asking why the application by Chijioke was made at the eleventh-hour. Mr Ravi said that it was disturbing because the court was put on notice that Chijioke’s counsel was only instructed yesterday (16 Nov).
With the court striking down the constitutional challenge, Chijioke will be led to prison to be executed in less than 10 hours – at 6am tomorrow morning.
Mr Ravi said: “I understand that no one from his family is here to visit him or arrange for his funeral.”
“Another case of the death penalty being disproportionately imposed on the poor and the disadvantaged,” he added.
Meanwhile several Human Rights organisations, both local and international, have called on the Singapore Government to urgently halt the scheduled execution of Chijioke. The United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia also joined in the call. It also urged the Singapore Government to immediately reinstate a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
“The death penalty is not an effective deterrent relative to other forms of punishment nor does it protect people from drug abuse,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office. “The focus of drug-related crime prevention should involve strengthening the justice system and making it more effective.”
“I urge the Singapore Government to halt the execution of Mr. Obioha and commute his death sentence, taking the important first step of re-instituting a moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” he added.
Chijioke was found in possession of more than 2.6 kilograms of cannabis on 9 April 2007 – exceeding the statutory amount of 500 grams – which under Singapore law triggers the automatic presumption of trafficking. Also in his possession were keys to a room containing additional prohibited substances, leading the authorities to presume him guilty of possession and knowledge of the drugs.
In August 2010, an appeal against Chijioke’s conviction and sentence was rejected. In 2013, when amendments to Singapore’s mandatory death penalties laws kicked in, Chijioke initially refused to make use of his right to resentencing. In April 2015, his clemency appeal was rejected and his execution was set for May 2015. Just one day before the execution, he was allowed to apply for resentencing.
Following legal advice that he would not qualify as a “courier” under the amended laws, Chijioke withdrew his application for resentencing. This led to the lifting of the stay of execution on 24 October 2016 and the setting of the execution date.