Unveiling Singapore’s Death Penalty Discourse: A Critical Analysis of Public Opinion and Deterrent Claims


By World coalition against the death penalty, on 27 March 2024

While Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) maintains a firm stance on the effectiveness of the death penalty in managing drug trafficking in Singapore, the article presents evidence suggesting that the methodologies and interpretations of these studies might not be as substantial as portrayed.

The “Life-saving benefits” of the death penalty 

Singapore is one of the rare executioner countries responding to international criticism regarding its use of the death penalty. Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) claims that capital punishment acts as a deterrent in relation to capital offences such as drug trafficking, ostensibly “saving more lives.” This assertion becomes even more disturbing considering that it is compounded by people’s support for such policies. Indeed, according to a survey on Singapore Residents’ Attitudes towards the Death Penalty conducted in 2021 (66%) of people agreed with the following statement: “The mandatory death penalty is appropriate as the punishment for…trafficking a significant amount of drugs.” However, the surveys’ methodology and framing raise questions about the accuracy of these findings. The definition of “significant amount” of drugs and the public’s understanding of this term remain unclear, affecting the interpretation of survey results. Furthermore, the level of public knowledge about the death penalty varies, potentially influencing survey responses.

Reevaluation of Death Penalty Policy 

While MHA studies claim widespread belief in the deterrent effect of the death penalty among individuals outside Singapore, the methodology and representativeness of the samples used are questionable. The studies fail to provide conclusive evidence of deterrence and overlook factors such as irrational decision-making by offenders and the limitations of empirical research on deterrence. Additionally, Sato’s scrutiny of MHA studies underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in policymaking. The government’s reluctance to share anonymized raw data and its reliance on studies conducted by ministry staff raise concerns about the integrity and impartiality of the research. While MHA surveys indicate a level of public support for capital punishment, the article argues that the findings may be influenced by limited knowledge or misconceptions about the efficacy and fairness of such measures.

In sum, Sato’s inquiry reveals significant discrepancies and limitations in the methodology, data interpretation, and transparency of the research conducted by the MHA regarding its use of the death penalty. 

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