Singapore rejects calls to abolish death penalty

Singapore on Wednesday rejected calls to abolish executions, saying the death penalty is still necessary to deter serious crimes despite legal reforms designed to lessen its use.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also minister for home affairs, said abolishing hanging would send the wrong signal to potential criminals.

Singapore has unveiled legal amendments that will enable judges to impose life imprisonment on low-level drug couriers and people who commit murder with "no outright intention to kill".

Mandatory execution will be reserved for hardcore murderers and traffickers.

"The mandatory death penalty strengthens this deterrent message," Teo said during a debate in parliament on a bill amending the anti-drugs law to allow judges some discretion under exceptional circumstances.

If Singapore abolished capital punishment as some legislators have advocated, "we would be sending the wrong signal that the risks of drug trafficking into Singapore have now been lowered, that the society is now more accepting of drugs", Teo said.

"They (abolition advocates) have looked at this from the point of view of the drug trafficker who has been apprehended. We also have to look at abolition from the point of view of society and the victims of drugs."

International campaign groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also called on Singapore to abolish the death penalty.

Judges currently have no choice but to impose the death penalty on anyone convicted of murder or trafficking in illegal drugs above specific volumes.

Teo said care must be taken so the reforms will "not open the doors wide" to mitigating factors which would undermine the country's "strict penalty regime and its deterrent value".

Pointing to the death penalty's deterrent effect, he said kidnapping and firearms offences fell sharply after capital punishment was introduced for these crimes.

For drugs, "we know that the mandatory death penalty has a deterrent effect because drug traffickers deliberately try to keep the amounts they carry to below the capital punishment threshold", he said.

Officials have said there are currently about 35 inmates on death row in Singapore, although executions have been suspended since July 2011 as part of a review that led to the proposed new legislation.

From 2004 to 2010, a total of 26 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners were executed, according to government figures.

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