Singapore—In the wake of recent near-executions, discussions are ongoing as to whether the death penalty should be abolished, with rights groups renewing this call.
MARUAH, a local human rights Non-Government Organization, issued a statement on October 1 (Thursday) simply entitled “Abolish the Death Penalty.” Referencing the interim stay of execution granted to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, sentenced to death in 2016 but who was spared execution last month, the group expressed appreciation for the efforts of his pro-bono team of lawyers and volunteers headed by Ravi M Ravi which led to the stay order.
Mr Ravi announced last week that the stay of execution had been extended “as the court wanted further submissions/arguments for parties to address the court”. The next hearing will be after Oct 7.
MARUAH expressed concerns over Mr Syed’s personal correspondence having been sent to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) even though the Ministry of Home Affairs has already said that at the time this occurred (2018) there was “no legal prohibition” to sharing prisoners’ correspondences.
“MARUAH is concerned over the past practices as even if there was no legal provision, there is an inherent ethical code that correspondence on cases ought not be shared without approval of the inmate or the lawyer,” the group added.
The rights group noted that in a case from last April, a ruling from the Court of Appeal said that the SPS is not allowed to pass correspondences from the prisoner to family members or lawyers to the AGC without obtaining either a court order or the prisoner’s consent.
MARUAH wrote, “This chain of shared correspondences, inadvertently, raises questions related to the integrity of prosecutorial processes and prejudice,” and called for an independent inquiry be held to determine past breaches and to asses their effect on the outcome against defendants in court cases.
The rights group also noted that when Singapore reviewed the Death Penalty in 2012, a provision was made for offering eligibility of a reprieve from capital punishment for drug traffickers who provide assistance to authorities that enable broader investigations, and that Mr Syed has not been granted this eligibility.
MARUAH asked what the conditions are for accused persons to fulfill the process of offering assistance. “There is a lack of transparency on the scoping of ‘assistance’, risking clarity on the certification,” the group added.
Accepting that most Singaporeans perceive that capital punishment is a deterrent to threats to public safety based on research the group is involved in with the National University of Singapore, in order to validate this, MARUAH “asks that data on all forms of drug-related offences and number of executions be made public so that we can assess the co-relation between the death penalty and keeping Singapore drug-free.”
In an article for for thenewslens.com, activist Kirsten Han wrote that this perspective has been a challenge that death-penalty abolitionists (like herself) have struggled against, citing a 2016 public opinion survey wherein 72 per cent of respondents in Singapore stated they were in favour of the death penalty.
Ms Han expressed surprise, therefore, that an online petition to save Mr Syed managed to amass over 30,000 signatories “given a general lack of sympathy for convicted drug traffickers,” although she added that to say that the tide of public opinion has turned would be premature, as another petition calling for the abolition of the death penalty itself has only gotten 3,000 signatures.
However, she mentioned reasons for being optimistic. “The support that Syed has received, and the interest and openness that many young Singaporeans have shown in discussing the intersectionality of justice, race, class, crime, punishment, and rehabilitation, suggest that there’s reason to be hopeful as we keep chipping away at mainstream pro-death penalty propaganda.” —/TISG