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Open letter writer urges President Halimah Yacob to be more like ex-President Wee Kim Wee

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An anonymous letter writer has urged Singapore’s current President Halimah Yacob to be more like ex-President Wee Kim Wee, as called on President Halimah to grant clemency to those facing the death penalty.

Facebook user Brittanie Bartlett shared the letter online, claiming that a “really good friend” wrote it. In the letter, the writer begins by saying that people “often draw comparisons” between President Halimah and ex-President Wee because both are “down to earth” and open to hearing what Singaporeans have to say.

The writer proceeded to shed light on the circumstances that caused 40-year-old death row inmate Djawani Bte Saradewi to turn to drugs to cope with her situation. Asserting that punishment should be proportionate to the crime, the writer said:

“She who was not receiving financial support for from her ex-husband to care for their schooling son and her ailing mother, while struggling with drug addiction and unemployment.
“I am not arguing that she is not responsible for her choices and is a victim of her circumstances, but that the role of the situation not be overlooked, and that the punishment be proportionate to the crime.”

The writer appealed: “In particular we should not end the life of a mentally dysfunctional mother who made a mistake trying to support her son and mother, but help her to recover and find better ways to do so.”

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Noting that “Dr Wee Kim Wee signed all requests for clemency for drug traffickers sentenced to death during his terms without altering the rates of drug trafficking in Singapore significantly,” the writer urged President Halimah to be more like the late former President in granting clemency requests:

“I read that perhaps it was because he lost his parents when he was young, and he did not want the same thing to happen to a young Singaporean unnecessarily. He was courageous enough to let the ultimate human value of compassion his decision, showing an understanding of what it is like to be poor, desperate and to make mistakes; to be human. His realisation that perhaps laws of the past need to be reviewed, and above all his kindness, won the hearts of many Singaporeans.
“I have faith that you too are a leader of such quality, and would consider deeply the clemency requests for drug traffickers like Madam Saradewi.”

Indeed, late former President Wee Kim Wee granted the most clemency requests in the history of Singapore.

According to the Singapore Working Group on the Death Penalty (SWGDP), “Since Singapore’s independence, only seven clemencies have been granted, with the last being exercised by the late President Ong Teng Cheong.”

The advocacy group went on to reveal that of the 7 clemencies, two were granted in the term of President Benjamin Sheares, one under President Devan Nair, three under President Wee Kim Wee, and one under President Ong Teng Cheong. The last two Presidents, S.. Nathan and , did not grant any clemency requests:

  • Benjamin Sheares (1971-1981): 2 in 10 years
  • Devan Nair (1981-1985): 1 in 4 years
  • Wee Kim Wee (1985 -1993): 3 in 8 years
  • Ong Teng Cheong (1993-1999): 1 in 6 years
  • S R Nathan (1999 – 2011): 0 in 12 years
  • Tony Tan (2015 – 2017): 0 in 3 years
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The President’s power to grant clemency has been modified in recent years. Today, Presidents who receive petitions for clemency and hope to grant the petition must request the judges who tried the case to make reports on the case to him/her.

The President must then send these reports to the Attorney-General (AG) and get the AG to send these reports and its opinion to the Cabinet. The Cabinet will then advise the President whether the offender should be granted clemency.

In an interview after he left the office of the President, former head of state S.R. Nathan expressed that the decision to grant clemencies is a “difficult thing.” He told reporters:

“The constitution clearly lays it down that I have to act on the advice of the cabinet, and the cabinet acts on the advice of the Attorney-General.
“Of course it’s a difficult thing when it comes to the death penalty. It’s a matter of conscience. That’s the law…and you do your best to see that there is justice done. You are in no position to contradict the submission when you have not heard the case. You can’t purely go on human emotions.”

Ex-President Nathan added: “I have to ask the man up there to forgive me for what is done for the good of society.”

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Read the open letter to President Halimah in full here:

“Dear President Halimah Yacob,

“People often draw comparisons between you and the late president Wee Kim Wee, because both of you are down to earth (just as you wanted to live among Singaporeans in your flat in Yishun, he did not want to be “special” and buried in Kranji War Memorial but instead wanted to be cremated and his ashes placed alongside ordinary citizens in Mandai Columbarium). Many Singaporeans you both deeply; wanting to live among the average Singaporean is not just a genuine indicator of your humility, but reflects the character of someone who is open to listening to what an average Singaporean has to say. It is with that hope that you are someone who would listen that I write to you about something many Singaporeans feel we could do better; our death penalty for drug traffickers.

“The people we hang are not mega rich drug lords who run a ring, but often mentally dysfunctional individuals who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are just trying to get by. Take 40 year old Madam Djawani Bte Saradewi for example, who will be hanged later this year. She who was not receiving financial support for from her ex-husband to care for their schooling son and her ailing mother, while struggling with drug addiction and unemployment. I am not arguing that she is not responsible for her choices and is a victim of her circumstances, but that the role of the situation not be overlooked, and that the punishment be proportionate to the crime. In certain parts of Syria they cut off the hand of a thief; and though true this may strongly deter stealing; it does not make the punishment a fair one. Switzerland has the lowest rate of homicide in the , and the punishment for that is not death but a lifetime of prison and community service. I am not saying others are better than us, but that it is possible to reach the same level of deterrence with more constructive means. In particular we should not end the life of a mentally dysfunctional mother who made a mistake trying to support her son and mother, but help her to recover and find better ways to do so.

“Dr Wee Kim Wee signed all requests for clemency for drug traffickers sentenced to death during his terms without altering the rates of drug trafficking in Singapore significantly. I read that perhaps it was because he lost his parents when he was young, and he did not want the same thing to happen to a young Singaporean unnecessarily. He was courageous enough to let the ultimate human value of compassion guide his decision, showing an understanding of what it is like to be poor, desperate and to make mistakes; to be human. His realisation that perhaps laws of the past need to be reviewed, and above all his kindness, won the hearts of many Singaporeans.

“I have faith that you too are a leader of such quality, and would consider deeply the clemency requests for drug traffickers like Madam Saradewi.”

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