A recent survey on Singapore’s opinion of the death penalty revealed a crushing amount of support for capital punishment. Conducted by government feedback agency Reach, the survey found that a staggering 80 per cent of Singapore residents supported the death penalty, while only 10 per cent voiced a need to abolish it.
While majority of the nation stands firm in its belief in capital punishment, a small group with a large voice finds courage to stand up to the dominant narrative. The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) has fronted multiple campaigns against the sentencing of death-row inmates over the last few years. This month, it’s fronting another campaign.
Led by human rights lawyer, Mr. M Ravi, the SADPC is now taking action to appeal the death sentence that has been dealt to Prabagaran a/l Srivijayan on the counts of drug trafficking.
Prabagaran is a 29-year-old Malaysian who has been found guilty of bringing 22.24g of Diamorphine into Singapore. He was arrested at the Woodlands Checkpoint on April 12, 2012, after immigration officers discovered two black bundles containing the drugs in the armrest console of his Malaysian-registered Hyundai car.
Prabagaran claimed willful blindness in his situation – the car was borrowed from a friend and Prabagaran had no knowledge of the drugs in the car. During the trial, prosecution argued that Prabagaran’s accounts were irreconcilable with evidence.
The law states a 3-months period to file clemency after conviction, followed by a 3-months consideration period for a pardon, and 3 weeks immediately thereafter, an execution for the death penalty.
According to Ravi, Prabagaran’s clemency was filed in March. The team is expecting the delivery of judgment from the Court of Appeal on November 15, which would set Prabagaran’s execution date in the first week of December.
News of Prabagaran’s impending execution in the following month has forged a sense of urgency within SADPC. Their campaign to save Prabagaran will be launched in Singapore and Malaysia, and will rely heavily on the group’s international networks, including the United Nations.
Ravi aims to highlight the unequal treatment under international law in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) memorandum. ‘There is a statute under ICJ which talks about customary international law – where you cannot be discriminated against. I will address this particular article of ICJ, as to how the Malaysian government can file an ICJ stay action in International Court of Justice. This is the route.’
This strategy could mark the first attempt by an Asian country to dispute a death penalty on the grounds of an individual’s nationality by going to the International Court of Justice. ‘Europeans have gone – Germans especially – it’s rare to go with this route. But this is the only route that Prabaragan has in terms of the law’, says Ravi.
While Ravi takes it upon himself and the activist group to provide the Malaysian government with this route, the group ultimately aims to remind through this memorandum that countries have a moral duty to defend their citizens.
Ravi recounts a similar situation in 2007, where 18-year-old Nigerian footballer, Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, was convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore. ‘If the government of Nigeria refuses to file an ICJ action, the lawyers in Nigeria can file action to compel their government in court, to file’ says Ravi. Activists, who protested Tochi’s innocence, carried out a hunger strike that lasted over a day, leading up to Tochi’s execution. Tochi was executed by hanging on 26 January 2007 in Changi Prison.
The SADPC wants to raise awareness amongst Malaysians of the disproportionate application of the death penalty towards the minorities.
Despite the dominant Singapore narrative on the death penalty, the scene in Malaysia differs. An online poll conducted by Barisan Nasional (BN) component party Gerakan, showed 55 per cent of 1,523 anonymous Internet users in support of abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia. The online #BetterMalaysia poll was designed to help Malaysian policymakers better understand public perceptions and to bridge the gap between the Malaysian public and policymakers.
With regards to Prabagaran’s situation, Ravi says ‘at the end of the day, Singaporeans are not going to make a difference. The people who are going to make a difference are Malaysians.’ With slightly more positive results from the Malaysian online poll, the SADPC might stand a better chance of overturning Prabagaran’s situation.
Elizabeth Boon is a familiar name in the media industry. She’s a writer for CLEO and a freelance emcee where she’s hosted international and local events, like the 28th SEA Games, Baybeats, YFest and TYR Southeast Asian Swimming Championships. She also dabbles with freelance graphic designing, acting, modeling, photography and production. She’s the creative mind behind a series of edgy and quirky graduation photos with its own hashtag: #HireMeLeh. Read more from her at elizabethboon.com.
Republished with permission from The Singapore Daily.