Online media keeps alive debate on death penalty

From campaigning against the death sentence imposed on 24-year-old Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, to organising forums, …


It is a rare occurrence when politics plays a part--however teeny weeny that part may be--in relaxing a tough piece of legislation like the death penalty in this city state.

More than 40 years after hanging was introduced for murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and firearms offences, the Singapore government has decided to ease up a little.

Judges will be given the discretion to go for life imprisonment for those charged with murder and drug trafficking, if certain requirements are met:

For murder, if lawyers can prove that their clients had no intention to kill.

For drug trafficking, if they can show those charged were only transporting, sending or delivering drugs, have helped the Central Narcotics Bureau substantively or are mentally disabled.

As expected, it is the drug laws that have attracted attention. And for good reasons.

First, since the tough Misuse of Drugs Act came into force in 1973, the only changes made were to tighten the law.

This is the first time it is being relaxed.

Second, as one newspaper reported, more than 70 per cent of the 450 hangings in Singapore since 1990 were for drug trafficking offences.

Third, many are not convinced that those hanged for such offences are really guilty because they are just bit players in the nefarious drug business with the kingpins licking their wounds in some nearby hideout.

Fourth, the tough laws don't seem to have made Singapore a drug-free country. Heroin use has surged, drug seizures have spiked and since 2005 drug arrests have jumped by 300 per cent.

But it is the online media, like The Online Citizen, NGOs, like Second Chances and the Singapore Anti-death Penalty Campaign, and lawyer M Ravi whohave highlighted and championed the cause.

From campaigning against the death sentence imposed on 24-year-old Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, to organising forums, to examining the law, they have made some headway.

Said its chief editor, Kumaran Pillai: "Our opposition to the death penalty is based on the principle of compassion. Death sentences are irreversible and do not allow for redemption in cases of miscarriage of justice.

"We also note that the mandatory death penalty has not been an effective deterrent for drug related offences. While we have made some inroads in the recent past, there is a lot more work that needs to be done for the complete abolishment of the death penalty."

The efforts are seeing some results.  Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, while tabling the proposed changes in Parliament, said: "Our society's norms and expectations are changing. While there is broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts."

The focus will now shift to the 34 people in death row. The government has said they will get a chance for their cases to be reviewed.

If some are spared the hangman's noose, then the debate might move to those who had already been executed before the changes to the laws were implemented.

Did these prisoners deserve to die? That could just be the next war cry of those championing the anti-death cause.

And if none are spared, then the allegation is likely to be that the amendments are just a smoke-screen.

Like nearly everything else in today's Singapore, the government is caught in a classic "half-empty, half-full" syndrome.

  • Written reply on 1MDB was corroborated: MOF

    KUALA LUMPUR: The written reply by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Dewan Rakyat recently on the financial status of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) in BSI Bank Singapore was corroborated by the ministry's officials. In a statement today, the ministry said the details in the written reply were produced and vetted through by ministry officials based on the information given by 1MDB. “The Finance Ministry has amended its earlier reply dated March 10 to avoid any confusion on 1MDB's financial status in BSI Bank Singapore to meet Parliament's demand on information pertaining the matter. “The ministry's move to rectify its earlier reply proved that it had no intention to withhold any information on the matter.” The statement said the accusation made by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claiming that Najib was not telling the truth in his written reply was uncalled for as the latter presented his response based on the information that was corroborated by ministry officials. The ministry said it had already taken the necessary actions to ensure that such an incident would not be repeated.

  • Doubling bottom 40pc household income a priority: Najib

    TOKYO: Doubling the household income of those in the bottom 40 per cent of the income bracket is a priority. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak told a dinner audience of about 260 Malaysian students and professionals here that balancing income inequality was one of the challenges faced by Malaysia. He said the many successes achieved by Malaysia did not mean that it did not face challenges. "Doubling the household income of those in the bottom 40 per cent is our priority," he said. Najib, who arrived this morning as part of his three-day visit here, said Malaysian students in Japan should prove that they were on par with the Japanese. He called on Malaysians studying and working here to acquire as much knowledge possible and return to contribute to Malaysia's development. On bilateral ties with Japan, Najib, who will meet his counterpart Shinzo Abe tomorrow, said both countries would enhance cooperation in a multitude of fields, especially economic and new technologies. Najib, who is accompanied by wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, is expected to take a high speed train trip to Sendai on Tuesday. Japan, which operates the famous Shinkanzen high speed railway network, is keen on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project. The project will cut travel time between the two cities by 90 minutes.

  • Golfer Dwivedi finishes 7th in Malaysia

    Kuching (Malaysia), May 24 (IANS) Indian golfer Samarth Dwivedi ended up seventh while Aman Raj finished tied 14th on the final day of the Malaysian Amateur Open here on Sunday. Dwivedi, 22, carded a level par 72 for a four-day total of two-over 290 while 19-year-old Raj recovered superbly from the first day damage as he shot two-under 70 on the final day for a cumulative score of five-over 293 to share 14th place with Malaysian Daeng Abdul Rahman. Singapore's Marc Ong, who was leading from Day 1, collected the winning trophy after firing four-under 68 for a total of 13-under 275.