Singapore —Thirty-seven-year-old Punithan Genasan has become the first individual to receive a death sentence via Zoom call.
Mr Genasan, a Malaysian national, who had been convicted for his part in a drug deal in 2011, was sentenced on Friday, May 15.
Due to the high number of cases of Covid-19 in Singapore, the country has been under tight “circuit breaker restrictions” since early April with restrictions scheduled to begin easing on June 1.
Most court cases are only scheduled to resume after that date, while those that have been deemed essential have gone on, albeit remotely, in the interest of public health and safety.
This is the first time that a man has been sentenced to death via Zoom, a video conferencing platform that skyrocketed in its number of users worldwide as more and more people began to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Human rights organisations have protested the sentencing of Mr Genasan, calling the fact that people have continued to be sentenced to their deaths during this time of crisis as “abhorrent.”
Mr Genasan’s hearing proceeded via video conferencing, Reuters was told by a spokesperson from the country’s Supreme Court. “For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing.”
Peter Fernando, the Malaysian national’s lawyer, said that Mr Genasan is considering filing an appeal.
While the first-of-a-kind death sentence has not been featured much in the country’s broadsheets, human rights activists have spoken up on the issue.
Activist and writer Kirsten Han is quoted by the BBC as saying, “The delivering of a death sentence via Zoom just highlights how clinical and administrative capital punishment is.” She also pointed out that Mr Genasan’s family has missed a chance to see him and talk with him.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director for Human Rights Watch Asia, said, “It’s shocking the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to confront his accusers.”
And Amnesty International issued a statement as well, saying that the death sentence of the Malaysian national is a “reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking.
At a time when the global attention is focused on saving and protecting lives in a pandemic, the pursuit of the death penalty is all the more abhorrent.”
While Mr Genasan’s sentencing over video conferencing platform is a first for Singapore, it is not the first in the world. This distinction belongs to Nigeria, where Olalekan Hameed was sentenced by Lagos judge Mojisola Dada to death by hanging for the murder of the mother of his employer, earlier this month.
In December 2018, Mr Hameed had pleaded not guilty to the murder of 76-year-old Jolasun Okunsanya.
Human Rights Watch had also condemned the Mr Hameed’s sentence, saying “The irreversible punishment is archaic, inherently cruel and inhuman. It should be abolished.” —/TISG