Why has capital punishment failed to deter drug crimes in S'pore?

Sangkari Pranthaman


LETTER | Despite strict laws and strong deterrent efforts from authorities, the drug problem in Singapore arises not solely due to addiction by abusers, but because there are other social problems that are interconnected with this issue.

These include gambling addiction, financial difficulties arising from high costs of living, acceptance by a younger and more liberal population, which includes students who pick up recreational use of substances when they study overseas, depression arising from the class gap, among many others.

Drug abusers in Singapore are sentenced to long-term imprisonment, but this does not achieve its intended result, though it still remains unclear as to what Singapore lawmakers are hoping to achieve, in the first place. 

Even if the government decides to make amendments to its laws, it takes far too long for it to happen, which would leave dozens of families and personal relationships far too broken by then. 

Besides that, far from being deterred and learning the error of their ways in prison, those who have been incarcerated, upon release, go on to learn the tricks of the trade from others, get involved again in dealing with drugs and become more interwoven in drug-taking and peddling social network and culture.

Discrimination towards ex-convicts in society leaves them unable to get new jobs which then leads them to commit the same offence again, coupled with the other factors mentioned above. Better the devil that you know, that the one that you don’t.

Placing all the blame on a drug mule, a first-time offender, who might have been a victim of circumstances and sentencing him/her to death is not the solution to fight against drug crimes. 

Offenders, more likely than not, admit to their mistakes but as an enlightened society that claims to know better, we have to weight in all the relevant factors to find a more humane and holistic solution. 

Hanging helpless drug mules would help Singapore proudly claim that the state has strict laws and is punishing offenders to death, even though killing all these people (who don’t deserve to die) has been proven, time and time again, to not be an effective, and even, a reasonable solution to its problems.

Singapore continues the killings because the state wants to send a message to the world, and it needs scapegoats to continue this, even when there is evidence to show that it’s not working, even if, to the contrary, the narcotic crime rate is rising. Singapore wants to spread a message of fear and intolerance for narcotic crimes to the world but is not willing to work to achieve a reasonable, humane solution.

At least, this is what their actions suggest. What do the deterrents even mean, if the crimes don’t stop? A more constructive approach is needed with the offenders to build a more enriching environment that would relate back to the wellness of the society.

Claims like the ‘Death penalty is an effective deterrent to drug crimes’ are just political and propagandistic talk. What evidence and statistics for the past 20 years that the nation of Singapore is able to produce to effectively claim so?

Recently there was a survey on the death penalty in Singapore which was started in October 2018 and its findings were published in May 2019. The survey which had questions on life and death has no transparency because no evidence, statistics and findings relating to it has been shown.

Singapore is able to educate its people on where and how all the rubbish and recycle items should be thrown and handled and on why it is building underground now because of the limited amount of land it has. 

However, when it comes to matters of life and death, incarceration, and the death penalty, there are no documentaries, information nor statistics to support its claims and actions. 

The difference in opinions on these issues among the younger and older generations in Singapore are not published nor shared for public viewing. Nothing has been revealed except for a small article in the newspaper. 

That’s all there is to the value of the lives of minor crime offenders in Singapore.

Who they interviewed, what were the questions, how was the sample size chosen, none of these were revealed in the survey, despite the fact that some people answered the survey out of fear. 

In a country of a population almost reaching 5.2 million, only 2,000 people were surveyed. Who were they? Underprivileged families, foreigners, students, permanent residents, rich people, religious leaders, lawyers - we don’t know anything as there was/is no proof nor any transparency. 

But when it comes to drug mules, incarceration for their crimes and the death penalty, we have to produce evidence for everything because the law requires it, as per the mandate of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to the UN, 160 countries around the world have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it anymore. Why is Singapore unable to process the reasoning of these 160 countries for abolishing the death penalty?

Isn’t there a difference between a person who commits the same crime five to six times and a person who was a first time offender? Who among these is supposed to get a second chance to build his life and correct his/her errors?

Recently there was also an issue about mercy killing (euthanasia) in Singapore. Those who suffer from serious illnesses and are in great pain, with families that are torn apart emotionally, mentally, financially, physically have given consent for euthanasia to be carried out. 

They, the ill-stricken, felt that it was better to let go of their lives than from suffering in pain all their lives but the Singaporean government said that it was not right to take their life regardless because life is precious. 

Then why isn’t the same reasoning applied here? Why isn’t it also unreasonable to kill minor offenders and drug mules for the sake of attempting to send a message to the world? How are their lives any less valuable than others?

“Violence cannot be resolved by more violence. The respect and protection of the fundamental right to life is more important than any form of revenge," said Navi Pillay, the president of the International Commission Against Death Penalty.

Or as Mahatma Gandhi said, "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is temporary, the evil it does is permanent."

On October 2018, a total of seven people were executed in a month alone, and after one week, the Singaporean government announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would conduct a survey on the death penalty. 

If the survey was so important and it concerned human lives, and if the peoples’ opinion were crucial, why should Singapore execute these seven people and have the survey to be carried out the following week? It does not make any sense. 

Why not wait for the survey to be finished first before these executions? It can be clearly seen that the results of the survey don’t matter anyway, hence what was its purpose?

Another issue that arose in P Pannir Selvam's case was as per the chief justice’s statement, where he said, “in our judgement, the applicant ought to have a reasonable opportunity to take advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge.” 

The point here is that this one week notice prior to executing someone is clearly an unreasonable time frame for a person to seek legal advice and counsel. 

As such, all the people hanged previously were only given one week’s notice and three days’ notice of execution. 

Prior to October 2018, all the notice of execution was served just three days’ notice and from 2018 onwards, 12 people received a one-week notice. 

In total, 32 people from 2015 until April 2019 got three days and one-week notice and 6 of them were Malaysians. All of these peoples’ rights have been deprived as they were not given a reasonable time to seek legal advice.

Before a person is about to be hanged, if he/she wishes to donate their organs to save people’s lives, he/she can do it. 

Many people here who have gone to the gallows have done it, but the next day, in the newspapers, it will be reported that these individuals were hanged because of the crimes that they did, and that the drugs that they got arrested with could harm people a lot. 

However, the good deeds which they had done prior to their deaths is of nobody’s concern, and the public wouldn’t know of this except the crime which he/she did six or seven years prior, as it will be published as the headline again and again. 

An offender might repent, regret and change but even after his death – Singapore, its laws, its media and its legal system, keeps punishing them.

There was a debate in the Parliament on the death penalty. The issue was that the death penalty for drug trafficking will not be abolished but will be minimised it by revaluating the key role of the offender.

The AGC or public prosecutor certifies to any court that in his determination, any person that has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore – 33B (2) (B) must be given a Certificate of Substantive Assistance. This was set out in 2012. 

Pannir’s fullest cooperation was given to the CNB on Aug 20 and Sept 24, 2018. However, the AGC has denied to give him the certificate. 

If they claim that the information given is not substantive, then there is a need to reform the 33B in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA). 

Currently, there are no guidelines on how to address this kind of situation. They sit on the information that the drug mules give without doing anything about it and act on bad faith by not issuing the certificates. 

Coupled with this, they also do not address nor admit that there is a problem with the law, its effectiveness in combating drug abuse in Singapore, its mishandling of drug mules and victims, and the need to finding a solution. 

They chose to remain silent and quite. This determination is done in bad faith and with malice – 33B (4).

So many people are being denied an opportunity to be a better person. Nothing good has come from that. 

So, I implore, why not dare to make the changes to give innocent victims like Pannir a second chance to build their life? 

Doing so, I believe, we will then be able to see changes that we did not see before. 

Only then will Singapore live up to its name of truly being a progressive and liberal nation.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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