There is no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, said the European Union Delegation to Singapore on Thursday.
The statement, issued together with the EU Heads of Mission and the Head of Mission of Norway, was in response to the plea by anti-death penalty advocates on the then impending execution of Muhammad Ridzuan on Friday morning.
It was a last-minute attempt by the activists, who had also written to the Singapore President, to save Ridzuan’s life after he had been sentenced to death for trafficking in heroin into Singapore.
The appeal was denied and Ridzuan was hanged on Friday morning.
The Singapore Government’s defence of the death penalty for drugs (and other crimes such as murder) has always been based on the claim that it deters criminals and crime, even though there has not been conclusive proof of such effect.
This, however, has not dissuade Government ministers from making such claims each time the issue is debated.
For example, in 2012, when Parliament was debating changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told the House that:
“Singaporeans understand that the death penalty has been an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for very serious offences, and largely support it.”
A recent research by the National University of Singapore (NUS), however, found that support for the death penalty was more “nuanced”.
For example, the research found:
“Although 70 per cent of those surveyed said they were in general favour of the death penalty, very few expressed strong views either way, researchers said. Of those in favour, just 8 per cent said they were strongly in favour; of those that were against it, just 3 per cent said they strongly opposed.” (CNA)
The survey also found that there was “weak support for the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offences in particular, where no death or injury had occurred.”
Yet, the Singapore Government continues to make two claims – first, that the death penalty is a “strong deterrent”, and second, that Singaporeans support it.
The EU, on its part, “holds a principled position against the death penalty and is opposed to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances.”
“No compelling evidence exists to show that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime,” it said in its statement.
“Furthermore, any errors – inevitable in any legal system – are irreversible. The EU will continue in its pursuit of the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.”
Muhammad Ridzuan’s case is particularly troubling because he was arrested and charged for the same crime as his accomplice, Abdul Haleem, who was spared the death penalty because – in the eyes of the Public Prosecutor – Abdul Haleem had “substantively assisted” the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in “disrupting” drugs syndicates within Singapore or outside Singapore.
Ridzuan, for unknown reasons because the Prosecutor is not required to explain his decision, was deemed not to have “substantively assisted” the CNB, and thus had no recourse to have his death sentence commuted.
The Prosecutor’s decision is made behind closed doors and the law explicitly states that his decision is not opened to review, even by the Court of Appeal.
Family, friends and supporters had gathered outside Changi Prison on Friday morning as the execution of Ridzuan was carried out.