Immediate Moratorium and Transparency: The First Step Towards Abolishing The Death Penalty
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Aims of the petition:
1. A Call to Action
We are demanding a call to action towards:
- An immediate moratorium (temporary suspension) on all executions; and
- Data transparency: to make public the identities and cases of everyone on death row.
Arguments supporting these calls to action have been made below the three aims of the petition.
2. A public opinion survey via the platform of a petition.
There have not been many surveys of public opinion on the death penalty in Singapore. The most thorough study was conducted by NUS in 2016, which found that while 7 out of 10 Singaporean respondents indicated support for capital punishment, the majority of these positions were not informed by sufficient knowledge of how the death penalty is actually applied in the country — the percentage of those in support of the death penalty dropped significantly when asked to apply a sentence to specific scenarios.
This petition serves as a ground-up initiative to gauge the sentiment of the general population. By signing this petition, you are letting the State know that you do not consent to the continuation of capital punishment. Additionally, you are contributing an important data point that can be used to build a foundation for the abolition of the death penalty in the future.
3. To make information about the death penalty more widely accessible
The writers of this petition do not claim to have perfect information or any moral/legal authority. Although we personally aim to see the death penalty abolished in Singapore, we believe that the information asymmetry must be addressed and the public must understand the processes and nuances of how capital punishment is meted out in our country — so that everyone can come to an informed opinion on the death penalty.
Call-to-Action #1: There must be an immediate moratorium on all executions in Singapore.
Our current criminal justice system, like all other systems, is imperfect and has made mistakes. We have seen this in the recent questioning of the conduct of the police and the prosecution in the case of Parti Liyani, the domestic worker acquitted by the High Court of theft after four gruelling years of fighting her boss’ accusations.
Other cases also highlight how mistakes can be made, increasing the potential for wrongful convictions and even executions. In 2011, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi was sentenced to death for drug trafficking. However, in 2014, the High Court reversed their decision to sentence him only for the Court of Appeal to later reinstate the sentence. Finally, the Court of Appeal reversed its reinstatement and acquitted him, after lawyers argued for the decision to be reviewed. He is currently a free man.
Similarly, Syed Suhail, too, would have been executed last Friday if not for the work of M Ravi and his team. It was also because of Ravi’s eleventh-hour application that the Attorney General’s Chambers acknowledged possession of correspondence forwarded to them by the prison in 2018, including a letter Syed wrote to his defence lawyer. This is a breach of lawyer-client privilege, and also flouts prison regulations. Similar complaints were also raised about correspondence between the Singapore Prison Service and the AGC in the case of Datchinamurthy Kataiah. According to Amnesty International, the Court of Appeal agreed in 2020 that in that case, “there was no legal basis in the form of a positive legal right [for the Singapore Prison Service] to forward copies of the same to the AGC.” In light of this information, there must be a moratorium on all pending executions in order to determine the fairness of these trials.
If not for the pro bono work of lawyers and activists, the state would have already carried out multiple executions despite serious issues with their cases. Given the existence of these grave concerns, how assured can we be of the justice and fairness of any execution without a thorough review?
Given the irreversibility of the death penalty, there needs to be an immediate suspension of all executions to allow sufficient time to review all these cases, questions, and failures within the existing legal process.
This irreversibility becomes even more chilling when we consider past cases where the accused has already been executed, despite circumstances that cast doubt on their guilt.
One example is Vignes Mourthi, who was 23 years old when he was hanged in 2003. This excerpt from a TOC article puts it best:
“During Vignes’s trial, one Sergeant Rajkumar, who was also the investigating officer who arrested Vignes, was the prosecution’s key witness. However, Rajkumar was himself being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for rape, sodomy and bribery at the same time the trial of Vignes was taking place. This was not disclosed to Vignes’s lawyers.
Rajkumar’s own trial took place after Vignes had been hanged.
Rajkumar was eventually found guilty of bribery and sentenced to 15 months in prison.”
This would not be the first time Singapore has had a moratorium period on executions. There was a moratorium period between 2011 and 2013.
In that case, the moratorium period was announced by then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, and the Minister of Law, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam. Their intention was to “[refine] our approach towards sentencing offenders. Our cardinal objectives remain the same. Crime must be deterred and society must be protected against criminals. But justice can be tempered with mercy and where appropriate, offenders should be given a second chance. How these objectives are achieved and balanced depend on the values and expectations of society, as it evolves and matures.”
However, these 2013 reforms did not address the systemic flaws in the legal process and ultimately gave the prosecution significantly more power to decide who has been substantively assisted, and who has not.
This petition is not calling for a revision of these reforms. Instead, we must observe a moratorium on all executions in Singapore immediately due to the irreversibility of the act and the fact that our criminal justice system has made mistakes in the past. Our stance is in line with Amnesty International’s 15th September statement urging the Singapore government to halt all imminent executions, namely that of Syed Suhail (stay of execution granted until court hearing on 7th October) and also Moad Fadzir bin Mostaffa (who was granted a respite order by the President on Wednesday 23rd September, but still faces the death penalty):
“The Singapore authorities must immediately halt this callous hanging. From the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences, to the imposition of mandatory death sentences and the reliance on legal presumptions of guilt, the Singapore authorities continue to flout international safeguards,”
“The Singapore authorities continue to pursue this cruel punishment while ignoring the far greater effectiveness of health and community-based approaches to drugs. Singapore’s heavy reliance on draconian laws and policies have not only failed to tackle the use and availability of drugs, they give zero effective protection from drug-related harm. Change must come now, starting with a halt to Friday’s execution.”
- Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International
Call-to-Action #2: The data of individuals facing the death penalty should be public information
First, the State carries out these executions in the name of the Public. The lack of information about the identities of individuals on death row distances people from the State mechanism. People should know who they are endorsing the State to put to death, and have transparency on their cases and what is actually going on in the death row.
Currently, the only public information we have is from anecdotal firsthand accounts from inmates themselves, who may share this information with their legal representatives or with family members. According to Syed Suhail’s sharing with M Ravi, there are ‘about 55 people facing imminent execution — 30 of them are Singaporean Malays, 20 are Indians — mainly Malaysians Indians; about 5 to 6 are Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysians.’ As M Ravi accurately points out, ‘this only shows that the death penalty disproportionately targets the poor, the oppressed and disadvantaged section of society.’ When determining public opinion on the death penalty, we must also ensure that public opinion is informed — data regarding who is sentenced and the details of their cases must also be available. This data is also important for us to understand and treat the root causes of drug addiction and trafficking, rather than only meting out punishment that further dehumanises victims of drug abuse.
Freedom of information is a core tenet of democracy, which ensures that individuals are able to participate effectively in decision-making by the government. This effectiveness is impeded by the lack of public information, especially in life or death matters such as capital punishment.
We seek President Halimah Yacob and the Cabinet she advises, Minister of Home Affairs Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam and the institutions he oversees, and the Court of Appeal in Singapore, the highest Court in the land, to act swiftly and urgently to call an immediate moratorium on executions in Singapore and deliver transparency and accountability to the Singapore public.
This petition was put together by concerned citizens who want to see the end of capital punishment in Singapore. We want to reiterate that we do not claim to have the answers. We just know that we need to have more well-informed public discourse about the death penalty in Singapore, especially given the fallibility of the criminal justice system, and the irreversible nature of such an act.
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