Singapore Executes People Sentenced to Death for Non-violent Crimes and Threatens their Lawyers


By Dinda Royhan, on 19 September 2019

Drug trafficking offences topped the list

The overwhelming majority (84%) of the executions in Singapore is drug-related offences, presenting a significant increase of execution numbers for drug offenders since 2017. Singapore is among 35 countries that retain the death penalty for drug offences, Harm Reduction International highlighted.
The recently amended Misuse of Drugs Act stipulated that the accused could avoid mandatory death penalty on two conditions; if their role is merely a courier and if they provide substantive assistance to receive Certificate of Cooperation issued solely by the Attorney-General’s Chambers. As highlighted by Think Centre, two problematic factors might significantly reduce the likelihood of getting the certificate. First, when the status of merely a courier prevents the accused to provide enough information to receive the certificate, as illustrated in the case of Bill Agbozo, a Ghanaian man executed to death in 2018. Second, when the accused have borderline intelligence levels and played only the role of a mere courier, such as the case of Nagaenthran.

“The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that has no place in any society that wants to pride itself as being modern, developed and civilized,” Think Centre reiterates. Furthermore, it has never been conclusively shown that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long term imprisonment.

Shrinking civic space
Of similar concern, the right to legal advice for capital cases is also under threat. In July and August this year, Lawyers for Liberty has received threats from Singapore Attorney-General, accusing two of its lawyers for “scandalous allegations against Singapore and its legal system” and “prejudicing of the administration of justice”
The lawyers, N Surendran and M Ravi, acted as a counsel for Malaysian prisoners sentenced to death for drug-related offences in the neighbor country Singapore. Both lawyers face the risk of being barred from legal practice. Similar cases have happened to a human rights advocate Jolovan Wham guilty of charges of scandalizing the court this year and a British author Alan Shadrake for launching a book about death penalty in 2010.
The increasing effort to silence local and foreign human rights defenders is alarming for civic space in Singapore. A recent study shows that only 38% Singaporean respondents have some knowledge about death penalty and only 3 in 10 people who favor mandatory death penalty still maintain their support after given realistic drug trafficking scenarios. Thus, maintaining a broad civic space where people could share and obtain knowledge, advocate for abolition, and demand for more transparency is a necessary step for Singapore to join the global trend towards abolition.

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