An Open Letter to President Halimah Yacob: Save Syed Suhail

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This is a mercy petition for Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, who is scheduled to be executed at 0600hrs on 18th September 2020 at Changi Prison. This petition has been put together by a group of concerned citizens.

Note: Please do not give donations through Change.org. This petition is not accepting donations.

Aims of the Petition
We, the undersigned, urge President Halimah Yacob to grant clemency to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin on his death sentence. And if not, at the very least, to grant a stay of execution (which is scheduled on 18th September 2020) for the purposes of: 
(a) thoroughly reviewing lawyer M Ravi’s appeal on 16th September 2020 
(b) to allow his family residing in Malaysia to visit him before his execution. 

We argue for this based on the grounds that: 
1. The accused has maintained that the drugs in his possession were not for trafficking and only for his personal consumption to serve his own addiction and dependence on heroin.
2. Drug addiction is a medical condition that must be recognised in court and serve as a mitigating factor against capital punishment.
3. Capital punishment is a cruel and ineffective punishment. There is no evidence that it works better than any other punishment in deterring crime.

Point 1: The accused has maintained that the drugs in his possession were not for trafficking and only for his personal consumption to serve his own addiction and dependence on heroin.
Syed Suhail has maintained that his possession of heroin was for personal consumption. Court accounts show that his addiction was escalating at the time of his arrest and that he was showing signs of withdrawal — making it all the more plausible that the drugs in his possession were not intended to be sold to anyone else.

Paragraphs from the High Court grounds of decision, which indicate that  one of Singapore's leading psychiatrists and a psychologist testified on behalf of Syed Suhail, corroborate this as shown below: 

"From April 2011, he gradually increased his intake of heroin until he was taking roughly 12g to 18g of normal grade heroin a day around the time of his arrest on 3 August 2011. He described the normal grade heroin as “coklat gelap” or dark chocolate, which contained upwards of 25g of heroin in a 442g packet (“the normal grade heroin”). He clarified that he did not reach this rate of consumption, which would cost an estimated $5,000 a month, overnight. In August 2011, his dependency level had got to the point where each use of heroin was just to delay the onset of withdrawal symptoms rather than to get high. He was injecting himself every two or three hours. When he had to work, he would smoke the heroin. When his urine was tested after his arrest, it contained 33.3 µg/ml of morphine."

"Dr Winslow also said that if a heroin user’s source was reliable, he would usually keep about one month’s worth of the drug to ensure that supply did not run out. If the supply line was erratic or he was unsure of his source, he could keep up to three months’ worth of heroin. Most addicts who consumed heroin at higher levels needed to support their consumption habit by selling a portion of the heroin that they had bought to offset the cost of their own use." [1]

As his lawyer M Ravi states, “There has to be a better response than imposing death penalty on Syed Suhail as he is a victim of his medical condition.” [2] 

Point 2: Drug addiction is a medical condition that must be recognised in court and serve as a mitigating factor against capital punishment.
According to IMH’s website, “an addiction is a chronic, progressive, and relapse-prone illness that affects a person both physically and psychologically.” Additionally, “a person can become addicted to either substances (i.e. drugs or alcohol) or to certain activities (e.g. gambling, sex, the Internet).” Specific to drug use, IMH provides the following list of characteristics: [3]

- Preoccupied with finding and consuming drugs
- Finds excuses to continue using drugs, despite promises to quit
- Conceals drug-taking behaviour, and is afraid of being discovered
- Has health and sleep problems
- Has frequent accidents and falls
- Feels exhausted and depressed because of drug use

Based on this definition provided by IMH, Syed Suhail is suffering from an addiction to drug use. Addiction is a mental illness that deserves help rather than this irreversible punishment. 

Point 3: Capital punishment is a cruel and ineffective punishment. There is no evidence that it works better than any other punishment in deterring crime.
To execute a person who has maintained their innocence to the charge of alleged drug trafficking is wrong. Furthermore, capital punishment is an inhumane and unfair punishment against those suffering from addiction. There is also no clear evidence that capital punishment is a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment. This is reinforced by the 2019 CNB report, which reflects that drug related arrests have been steadily increasing. [4]

A prison sentence would serve as an effective alternative which allows for time and resources in service of Syed Suhail’s rehabilitation. 

It is also worthy to note that drug-related sentencing disproportionately affects lower-income Malay men — in 2019, the majority of new drug users were reported to be Malay. [5] Drug abuse, especially in the Malay community, is an issue of disenfranchisement, which is tied to socioeconomic and other structural inequalities. Resources should be channeled into addressing these root issues, instead of using capital punishment, which only further stigmatises drug users and makes it more difficult for them to get help. Many are afraid to reach out to their doctor, friends and family, or to seek institutional help for fear of being reported. 

We must emphasise prevention, rehabilitation and the consideration of wider socioeconomic factors. To suggest that drug addiction is a simple matter of personal choice is to fail the communities that are most affected and to falsely imply that opportunities in Singapore, including holistic support and treatment for addiction, are evenly distributed.

To be clear, we are hanging people who are mules and addicts — vulnerable people who have to turn to drugs in order to escape their socioeconomic and/or psychological realities. They deserve our compassion and solidarity, not an irreversible sentence that robs them of a chance at “rehab[ilitating], renew[ing] and restart[ing].” To carry out an execution of someone who deserves a second chance at healing is unbecoming of a country that prides itself on “justice, equality and progress.” 

A Stay of Execution
To be clear, we are advocating for President Halimah Yacob to grant clemency to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin on his death sentence. However, if clemency is not an option at this point, granting a stay of Syed Suhail’s execution is essential. 

Firstly, this will allow for the application filed by M Ravi and his team to be carefully considered. M Ravi has filed a Judicial Review Application in the High Court as of Wednesday afternoon. Up till now, the Court of Appeal has not provided a written grounds of decision for rejecting Syed Suhail’s initial appeal. Given the harsh and irreversible nature of the death penalty, sufficient time and care must be given to consider every aspect and question raised in relation to the case; it is crucial that we do not act in haste or prioritise efficiency and speed over justice and compassion. 

More importantly, delaying his execution would also allow his family in Malaysia to visit him when travel restrictions ease. We must resist the temptation to dehumanise those on death row. Currently, Syed Suhail’s family is only allowed 4 hours of visiting time a day and according to his sister, during her visit this afternoon, she could not touch or hold him. There was a glass separating him and her. [6] We must remember what is at stake here -- Syed Suhail is a son, a brother, a friend. Giving him the chance to see his loved ones before his execution is a basic act of compassion, from one human being to another.

Conclusion
One only has to analyse the pattern of Syed Suhail’s previous heroin usage to realise that the amount of heroin he was caught with on his person falls well within the amount he would have bought to keep as his own personal supply. Taking into consideration Syed Suhail’s suffering from substance addiction, it becomes obvious that capital punishment is a cruel but unfair punishment which deprives him of a chance for rehabilitation. This point, compounded with the fact that his relatives are unable to visit him due to the closed borders, should be more than enough to at least grant him a stay of execution.

President Halimah Yacob, you are a voice that we look up to. You have consistently proven that you are someone who is ready to stand on the right side of history - from your handling of gender issues to championing small businesses. Once again, you have, in your term of presidency, an opportunity to choose humanity and compassion by granting Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin clemency, or at the very least, a stay of execution. Every life counts. Thank you for considering our petition.

“Second chances means not killing them.”

 

Citations 

[1]https://www.supremecourt.gov.sg/docs/default-source/module-document/judgement/-2016-sghc-08-pdf.pdf

[2]https://www.facebook.com/ravi.mravi.7/posts/10214252522627449

[3]https://www.cnb.gov.sg/docs/default-source/drug-situation-report-documents/cnb-annual-statistics-2019.pdf 

[4]https://www.imh.com.sg/clinical/page.aspx?id=246

[5]https://www.statista.com/statistics/1007692/new-drug-abusers-by-ethnicity-singapore/

[6]https://www.facebook.com/events/749961702232829/?notif_t=plan_user_invited&notif_id=1600248451513306