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Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in Singapore. The city-state had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, estimated by the United Nations to be 13.57 executions per one million population during that period.[1] The next highest was Turkmenistan with 12.43 (which is now an abolitionist country). Each execution is carried out by hanging at Changi Prison at dawn on a Friday.

Singapore has had capital punishment since it was a British colony and became independent before the United Kingdom abolished capital punishment. The Singaporean procedure of hanging condemned individuals is heavily influenced by the methods formerly used in Great Britain.

Contents

Statistics

The following table of executions was compiled by Amnesty International from several sources, including statistics supplied by the Ministry for Home Affairs in January 2001 and government figures reported to Agence France-Presse in September 2003.[2] Numbers in brackets are the number of foreign citizens executed, according to information disclosed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Year Murder Drug-related Firearms Total
1991 19 5 26
1992 13 7 1 21
1993 10 2 7
1994 21 54 1 76
1995 20 52 1 73
1996 10 {7} 40 {10} 50
1997 {3} 11 {2} 1 15
1998 4 {1} 24 {5} 28
1999 8 {2} 35 {7} 43
2000 4 {2} 17 {5} 21
2000 23
2001 22

Detailed statistics are not released by the government of Singapore. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told the BBC in September 2003 that he believed there were "in the region of about 70 to 80" hangings in 2003. Two days later he retracted his statement, saying the number was in fact ten.[3]

The chief executioner, Darshan Singh, said that he has executed more than 850 people during his service from 1959 using the phrase: "I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you." This included 18 people on one day, using three ropes at a time. Singh also said that he has hanged 7 people within 90 minutes.[4]

Foreign nationals

The people on death row include foreign nationals, many of whom were convicted of drug-related offences. These inmates come from a diverse group of countries including Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, People's Republic of China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ghana, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Portugal. Figures released by the government of Singapore show that between 1993 to 2003, 36% of those executed were foreigners, including some residents in Singapore (one quarter of Singapore residents are foreigners).[5]

Legislation

Under Section 216 of the Criminal Procedure Code:[6]

"When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he shall be hanged by the neck till he is dead but shall not state the place where nor the time when the sentence is to be carried out."

Hangings always take place at dawn on Friday and are by the long drop method developed in the United Kingdom by William Marwood. The executioner refers to the Official Table of Drops. The government have said that they:

"…had previously studied the different methods of execution and found no reason to change from the current method used, that is, by hanging."[7]

Neither persons under the age of 18 at the time of their offence nor pregnant women can be sentenced to death.

Capital cases are heard by a single judge in the High Court of Singapore. After conviction and sentencing, the sentenced has one appeal to the Court of Appeal of Singapore. If the appeal fails, the final recourse rests with the President of Singapore, who has the power to grant clemency on the advice of the Cabinet. The exact number of successful appeals is unknown. Poh Kay Keong had his conviction overturned after the Court found his statement to a Central Narcotics Bureau officer was made under duress.[2] Successful clemency applications are thought to be even rarer. Since 1965, President's clemency has been granted six times.[8] The last clemency was in May 1998 when Mathavakannan Kalimuthu received pardon from President Ong Teng Cheong with the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

The condemned are given notice at least four days before execution. In the case of foreigners who have been sentenced to death, their families and diplomatic missions/embassies are given one to two weeks' notice.[5]

Amnesty International reports that death row inmates are housed in cells of roughly 3 m² (30 ft²).[2] Walls make up three sides, while the fourth is vertical bars. They are equipped with a toilet, sleeping mat and a bucket for washing. Exercise is permitted twice a day for half an hour at a time.[5] Four days before the execution, the condemned is allowed to watch television or listen to the radio.[2] Special meals of their choice are also cooked, if within the prison budget. Visitation rights are increased from one 20 minute visit per week,[5] though no physical contact is allowed with any visitors.[2]

Capital offences

In addition to the Penal Code, there are four Acts of Parliament in Singapore that prescribe death as punishment for offences. According to the local civil rights group, the Think Centre, 70% of hangings are for drug-related offences.[9]

Penal Code

Under the Penal Code,[10] the commission of the following offences may result in the death penalty:

  • Waging or attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the Government*
  • Offences against the President’s person*
  • Mutiny
  • Piracy that endangers life
  • Perjury that results in the execution of an innocent person
  • Murder
  • Abetting the suicide of a person under the age of 18 or an "insane" person
  • Attempted murder by a prisoner serving a life sentence
  • Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder
  • Robbery committed by five or more people that results in the death of a person
  • Drug trafficking
  • Unlawful discharge of firearms (firearms are heavily restricted in the city)

*In other words, treason.

Misuse of Drugs Act

The Singapore embarkation card contains a warning to visitors about the death penalty for drug trafficking. Warning signs can also be found at the Johor-Singapore Causeway and other border entries.

Under Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act,[11][12] any person found in possession of more than the following quantities of drugs receives a mandatory death sentence:

Death sentences are also mandatory for any person caught manufacturing

  • Morphine, or any salt of morphine, ester of morphine or salt of ester of morphine
  • Diamorphine (Heroin) or any salt of diamorphine
  • Cocaine or any salt of cocaine

The Act, to some degree, reverses the usual burden of proof in common law jurisdictions. Under the Act any person found in possession of more than the prescribed amounts is presumed to be trafficking. Any person who has in their possession a key to a premises where drugs are found is presumed to be in possession of the drugs since "Any person who is proved to have had in his possession or custody or under his control —

(a) anything containing a controlled drug;

(b) the keys of anything containing a controlled drug;

(c) the keys of any place or premises or any part thereof in which a controlled drug is found; or

(d) a document of title relating to a controlled drug or any other document intended for the delivery of a controlled drug,

shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have had that drug in his possession."

Furthermore, any person who is proved or presumed to have had a controlled drug in his possession shall be presumed to have known the nature of that drug.

Internal Security Act

The preamble of the Internal Security Act states that it is an Act to "provide for the internal security of Singapore, preventive detention, the prevention of subversion, the suppression of organised violence against persons and property in specified areas of Singapore, and for matters incidental thereto."[13] The President of Singapore has the power to designate certain security areas. Any person caught in the possession or with someone in possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives in a security area can be punished by death.

Arms Offences Act

The Arms Offences Act regulates firearms offences.[14] Any person who uses or attempts to use arms (Section 4) can face execution, as well as any person who uses or attempts to use arms to commit scheduled offences (Section 4A). These scheduled offences are:- being a member of an unlawful assembly; rioting; certain offences against the person; abduction or kidnapping; extortion; burglary; robbery; preventing or resisting arrest; vandalism; mischief. Any person who is an accomplice (Section 5) to a person convicted of arms use during a scheduled offence can likewise be executed.

Trafficking in arms (Section 6) is a capital offence in Singapore. Under the Arms Offences Act, trafficking is defined as being in unlawful possession of more than two firearms.

Kidnapping Act

The terms of the Kidnapping Act designate abduction, wrongful restraint or wrongful confinement for ransom as capital offences.[15]

Public debate

Public debate in the Singaporean news media on the death penalty is almost non-existent, although the topic does occasionally get discussed in the midst of major, well-known criminal cases. Efforts to garner public opinion on the issue are rare, although it has been suggested that the population is influenced by the traditional Chinese view which held that harsh punishment deters crime and helps maintain social peace and harmony.[16] In October 2007, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said in Parliament that "Certain of us may hold the view that the death penalty should be abolished. But in a survey done two years ago, reported in the Straits Times, 95% of Singaporeans feel that the death penalty should stay. This is something which has helped us to be safe and secure all these years and it is only reserved for a very few select offences."[17]

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, a former opposition Member of Parliament in Singapore, was reportedly only given a few minutes to speak in parliament on the issue before his comments were rebutted by the Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs.[2][18] Few other opposition members in parliament would bring up the issue, which may be reflective of a population generally indifferent to the matter.

Before the hanging of Shanmugam Murugesu, a three-hour vigil was held on May 6, 2005. The organisers of the event at the Furama Hotel said it was the first such public gathering organised solely by members of the public against the death penalty in Singapore. Murugesu had been arrested after being caught in possession of six packets containing just over 1 kg of cannabis after returning from Malaysia. He admitted knowledge of one of the packets, which contained 300 g, but not the other five.[19][20] The event went unreported on the partially state-owned media and the police shut down an open microphone session just as the first person began to speak.[19][21]

After the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen, a Vietnamese Australian man from Melbourne, Australia, on December 2, 2005, Sister Susan Chia, the province leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore, declared that "The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life." Chia and several other nuns comforted Nguyen's mother two weeks before his execution for heroin trafficking.[22]

Singapore's death penalty laws have drawn comments in the media. For example, the science fiction author William Gibson, while a journalist, wrote a travel piece on Singapore that he sarcastically titled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty."[23]

Law Society review

In December 2005, the Law Society of Singapore revealed that it has set up a committee, named Review Committee on Capital Punishment, to examine capital punishment in the country. The President of the Society, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam said that the main focus of the review was on issues regarding administering the death penalty such as whether it should be mandatory. A report of the review would be submitted to the Ministry of Law.[24]

Government response

The government states that the death penalty is only used in the most serious of crimes, sending, they say, a strong message to would-be offenders. They point out that in 1994 and 1999 the United Nations General Assembly failed to adopt resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide, as a majority of countries opposed such a move.

The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations wrote a letter to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 2001 which stated:

"…the death penalty is primarily a criminal justice issue, and therefore is a question for the sovereign jurisdiction of each country […] the right to life is not the only right, and […] it is the duty of societies and governments to decide how to balance competing rights against each other."[2]

In January 2004, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a response to Amnesty International's report, "Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of executions". It defended the nation's policy to retain the death penalty, predicating its arguments on, amongst others, the following grounds:[5]

  • There is no international consensus on whether the death penalty should be abolished
  • Each country has the sovereign right to decide on its own judicial system, taking into account its own circumstances
  • The death penalty has been effective in keeping Singapore one of the safest places in the world to work and live in
  • The application of the death penalty is only reserved for "very serious crimes".

The Ministry of Home Affairs also refuted Amnesty International's claims of the majority of the executed being foreigners, and that it was "mostly the poor, least educated, and vulnerable people who are executed." The Ministry stated: "Singaporeans, and not foreigners, were the majority of those executed... Of those executed from 1993 to 2003, 95% were above 21 years of age, and 80% had received formal education. About 80% of those who had been sentenced to capital punishment had employment before their convictions"[5]

Following the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen in 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the government's position, stating that "The evil inflicted on thousands of people with drug trafficking demands that we must tackle the source by punishing the traffickers rather than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards... It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem."[25]

Prior to the United Nations General Assembly's voting on a moratorium on the death penalty in November 2007, Singapore's ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon said: "My delegation would like to remind this committee that capital punishment is not prohibited under international law. Yet it is clear that the sponsors of this draft resolution have decided that there can only be one view on capital punishment, and that only one set of choices should be respected... [the death penalty] is an important component of the administration of law and our justice system, and is imposed only for the most serious crimes and serves as a deterrent. We have proper legal safeguards in place to prevent any miscarriage of justice."[26]

Cases

Notable past cases

  • Johannes van Damme, for drug trafficking. He was the first European executed in Singapore since its independence.
  • Tong Ching-man and Poon Yuen-chung, for drug trafficking. The two Hong Kong women were both 18 years old at the time of their crime.
  • Flor Contemplación, for murder.
  • Angel Mou Pui-Peng, for drug trafficking. A young Macao unmarried mother who was 25 years old at her execution[27].
  • Van Tuong Nguyen, for drug trafficking. As he was an Australian, the verdict caused much outrage and the Government of Australia had to intervene in the matter.
  • Took Leng How, for murder of eight-year old Huang Na. Took's appeal was dismissed in the Court of Appeal with Justice Kan Ting Chiu dissenting.
  • Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, for drug trafficking.
  • Leong Siew Chor, (nicknamed "Kallang Body Parts Murderer") 51-year-old, convicted in May 2006 for strangling and chopping up his lover's corpse, a 22-year-old Chinese national, Liu Hong Mei.[28] He was hanged in November 2007.[29]
  • Tan Chor Jin, (nicknamed "One Eyed Dragon"), was sentenced to death in May 2007 for the shooting and murder of a nightclub owner. Tan represented himself in court without a lawyer. He had asked the judge to give him the death sentence[30], and was hanged in January 2009[31].

See also

References

  1. ^ http://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/10_commission/10e.pdf para 68
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of executions" (PDF). Amnesty International. 2004-01-14. http://www.amnesty.org/en/alfresco_asset/ac5ac24e-a509-11dc-a92d-271514ed133d/asa360012004en.pdf. Retrieved 2007-12-29. "Amnesty International recognizes the need to combat drug trafficking, and the harm that illicit drugs can cause. However there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters would-be traffickers more effectively than other punishments; Amnesty International is gravely concerned that such presumptions erode the right to a fair trial, increasing the risk that an innocent person may be executed, particularly as the law provides for a mandatory death sentence; Amnesty International opposes the death penalty worldwide in all cases without exception; Relatives have informed Amnesty International that prisoners under sentence of death are kept in strict isolation in individual cells measuring approximately three square meters. The cells are thought to have walls on three sides, with bars on the remaining side. Cells are sparse, furnished only with a toilet and a mat for sleeping, but no bedding. Inmates are allowed the use of a bucket for washing; They may receive one 20-minute visit per week in a special area where they are separated from visitors by a thick pane of glass and have to communicate via a telephone. About four days before the execution date, as a special concession, prisoners are permitted to watch television or listen to the radio and are given meals of their choice, within the prison’s budget. They are also allowed extra visits from relatives but no physical contact is permitted at any time before the execution; In July 2001 then parliamentarian and prominent human rights campaigner, J.B. Jeyaretnam, called for a parliamentary debate about the case of a drug user who was facing execution, urging the Cabinet to consider various aspects of the case during examination of his clemency appeal. J.B. Jeyaretnam was given just a few minutes to speak before his arguments were rebutted by the Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs." 
  3. ^ "More people executed in Singapore". 2003-09-25. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/09/24/1064083055829.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  4. ^ Shadrake, Alan (2005-10-28). "Nguyen executioner revealed". The Australian (Surry Hills, NSW, 2010, Australia: News Limited). http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17057851-2,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "Mr Singh joined the British colonial prison service in the mid-1950s after arriving from Malaysia. When the long-established British hangman Mr Seymour retired, Singh, then 27, volunteered for the job. He was attracted by the bonus payment for executions. Mr Singh is credited with being the only executioner in the world to single-handedly hang 18 men in one day -- three at a time. They had been convicted of murdering four prison officers during a riot on the penal island of Pulau Senang in 1963. He also hanged seven condemned men within 90 minutes a few years later. They had been convicted in what became known as the "gold bars murders", in which a merchant and two employees were killed during a robbery. One of the most controversial executions in his career was the 1991 hanging of a young Filipina maid, Flor Contemplacion, who was convicted of the murder of a co-worker, Delia Maga, and her four-year-old son, on what many believed was shaky evidence. He carries out the executions wearing simple casual clothes, often just a T-shirt, shorts, sports shoes and knee-length socks. To mark his 500th hanging four years ago, four of his former colleagues turned up at his home to celebrate the event with a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon. Mr Singh boasts that he has never botched an execution. "Mr Seymour taught him just how long the drop should be according to weight and height and exactly where the knot should be placed at the back of the neck," his colleague said. "Death has always come instantaneously and painlessly. In that split second, at precisely 6am, it's all over."" 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The Singapore Government's Response To Amnesty International's Report "Singapore - The Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll Of Executions"". Ministry of Home Affairs. 2004-01-30. http://app3.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=474. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "Contrary to AI's claims, Singaporeans, not foreigners, were the majority of those executed in Singapore. From 1993 to 2003, 64% of those executed were Singaporeans. In the last five years, 73% executed were Singaporeans. Given that one in four residents in Singapore is a foreigner, it is not only false but mischievous to allege that a significant proportion of prisoners executed were foreigners; Although family members are not with the inmate at the moment of execution, they are informed four days before the executions (for foreigners, the families and embassy will be informed earlier, usually seven to fourteen days) and allowed daily visits lasting up to four hours for each visit during these four days. The execution is carried out in the presence of a Prison medical doctor. Upon request, a priest or a religious minister is allowed to be present, to pray for the person to be executed; Our prison conditions are spartan but adequate. Visiting Justices, who are prominent members of the community, conduct regular unannounced visits to the prison institutions to make sure that prisoners, including those on death row, are not ill-treated. It is not true that prisoners are not allowed to exercise. All prisoners, including condemned prisoners, are entitled to their daily exercises. In fact, there are two exercise yards dedicated for this use. They are normally allowed to exercise twice a day, half an hour each time, one or two at a time." 
  6. ^ Cap. 68, 1985 Rev. Ed.
  7. ^ "Singapore stands by hanging". 2005-11-21. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2005/11/21/1513132.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  8. ^ Rita Zahara (2006-12-29). "19 murders in first 11 months of 2006, one more than same period in 2005". Channel NewsAsia. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/249756/1/.html. 
  9. ^ "Singapore Death Penalty Shrouded In Silence". Reuters. 2002-04-12. http://www.thinkcentre.org/article.cfm?ArticleID=1425. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  10. ^ Cap. 224, 1985 Rev. Ed.
  11. ^ Cap. 185, 2001 Rev. Ed.
  12. ^ SECOND SCHEDULE - OFFENCES PUNISHABLE ON CONVICTION
  13. ^ Cap. 143, 1985 Rev. Ed.
  14. ^ Cap. 14, 1998 Rev. Ed.
  15. ^ Cap. 151, 1999 Rev. Ed.
  16. ^ Baradan Kuppusamy (2007-12-03). "DEATH PENALTY-SINGAPORE: Stand at UN Leaves Many Angered". IPS. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40319. 
  17. ^ Peng Kee, Ho, Singapore Parliamentary Reports, 11th Parliament, Session 1, Volume 83, 23 October 2007.
  18. ^ Tan Kong Soon (2001-07-19). "Death Penalty Case Gets an Airing in Parliament". Think Centre. http://www.thinkcentre.org/article.cfm?ArticleID=973. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "The Parliamentary session of July 11 2001 saw a veteran politician broach the issue of clemency for a death row-bound, Malay male convicted of drugs trafficking; Within the span of allocated time, JBJ managed to raise only three points of the clemency plea before interrupted by the Speaker of the House; Rising to reply JBJ’s tirades was the Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee." 
  19. ^ a b Aglionby, John (2005-05-08). "Singapore finally finds a voice in death row protest". World (London: The Observer). http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1479037,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "Murugesu, 38, a former jet ski champion, military veteran and civil servant, was arrested in August 2003 after six packets containing a total of just over a kilo of cannabis were found in his bags when he returned home after a trip to Malaysia. He admitted to knowing about one of the packets, containing 300g, but nothing about the others; The government clearly does not want the campaign gathering momentum. The partially state-owned local media ignored the vigil and the police shut down the open mike session just as the first person was getting into his stride." 
  20. ^ "IR Legislation; Death Row in Singapore". The Law Report (Melbourne: ABC Radio National). 2005-11-08. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lawreport/stories/2005/1498153.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "[...] he was caught for one one kilogram of cannabis which is what he was charged for, although he admitted only one packet." 
  21. ^ Martin Abbugao (AFP) (2005-05-16). "Singapore anti-death penalty fight lives on". World (Hong Kong: The Standard). http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/World/GE16Wd06.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. "In an example of the extent authorities still monitor dissenters, an "open mike session" at the vigil in which the audience was invited to speak was abruptly ended just after the first speaker began to talk. Organizers said plainclothes police officers stepped in and asked them to scrap that portion of the program." 
  22. ^ "End death penalty: Singapore nun". The Age. 4 December 2005. http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/end-death-penalty-singapore-nun/2005/12/03/1133422148176.html. 
  23. ^ "Disneyland with the Death Penalty". Wired. September 1993. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/gibson.html. 
  24. ^ Ansley Ng (2006-01-13). "Singapore's Law Society to give death penalty a fair airing". Today (Singapore newspaper). http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/187994/1/.html. 
  25. ^ "Drug trafficking 'deserves death penalty': Singapore PM". ABC News Online. 2005-11-29. http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200511/s1519531.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  26. ^ Deen, Thalif (2007-11-01). "Death Penalty Threatens to Split World Body". Asian Tribune. http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/8062. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  27. ^ Angel Mou Pui Peng
  28. ^ Rita Zahara (2006-05-19). "Kallang body parts murderer gets death sentence". Channel NewsAsia. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/209213/1/.html. 
  29. ^ "Property agents obliged to reveal history of flat?". 2008-10-02. http://www.asiaone.com/Business/My%2BMoney/Property/Story/A1Story20080930-90938.html. 
  30. ^ Valarie Tan (2007-01-24). ""One-Eyed Dragon" asked to be hanged to stop death threats on family". Channel NewsAsia. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/254470/1/.html. 
  31. ^ "One-eye Dragon hanged". Straits Times. 2009-01-09. http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_323992.html. 

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