Friday, May 06, 2005

Singapore President has rejected death row appeal

Singapore's president has rejected an appeal by the teenage children of a 38-year-old man on death row, saying he would not receive clemency and underlining the country's tough stand on drugs trafficking.
(Source: Reuters, on

This is not entirely unexpected, and means that Shanmugam Murugesu will be hung for trafficking about 1 kg of cannabis.

As noted a few days ago by serialdeviant, in a post which was chronicled on, "Does Singapore needs to reform its policy on the death penalty? Hell yes. Is he the best person to be the poster boy for the ills of the system? No. He is guilty of the crime, there’s no frame-up, there’s no mistaken identity here. He doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. True, he has young kids who will practically be orphans if he is executed, but he should’ve thought of that before he agreed to smuggle the drugs."

Repeating what I said in the comments section of that post:

I suspect that the reason Shanmugam Murugesu is being used as a "poster boy" is not so much because he has a "legal leg to stand on" (serialdeviant is right; he doesn't) but rather because it gives those who have a vested interest in reform an excuse to trot out all their arguments once again.

So, it's utterly unsurprising that he has been used, because at least in his case there are other factors which make it seem rather inequitable that he is to be executed.

I'm unsure if he should be given a chance. My gut instinct is that he should, but the question is: what sort of 'chance' could this be? Would his children truly be better of with a father in jail (which is, I think, the extent of any possible pardon) rather than one who has been executed?

I disagree with the idea that Singapore's death penalty should be "reformed". Perhaps someone would point me to cogently held opinions which elucidate why Singapore in particular should remove her death penalty?

I suppose that the list posted by Mc Dermott probably constitutes such an opinion. In response:

Fact #1 : Drug abuse is not the only social ill that destroy lives. Addiction to smoking, gambling and alcohol kill as many, if not more, people in Singapore than drug abuse. Should we also prosecute and hang directors of tobaccco companies, casino operators and alcohol maufacturers?
No, for the same reason that gambling is now going to be allowed in Singapore.

Fact #2 : Drug couriers like Shanmugum often take on such jobs because of economic hardship. Syndicates who want to ship drugs into Singapore often use decoys to distract the police. Shanmugum was likely deployed as such a decoy. At the time when Shanmugum was caught at the causeway, there may have been 4 or 5 more other couriers who had escaped the custom. This is one way in which drugs continue to flow into Singapore.

and is your claim, sir, that reducing the penalty will help matters? The fact that there continue to be drug couriers suggests that the penalty actually needs to be increased; but that is hardly possible. Our only option, therefore, is to maintain the penalty.

Economic hardship cannot be a consideration in sentencing; that is discrimination in it's purest form. Each courier makes a personal decision, not based on coercion (otherwise defences would be available to him), to take the risk.

Fact #3 : Despite the use of the death penalty as a deterrent to would-be-criminals, prison population in Singapore is one of the highest in the world. "Singapore locks away more people than over half the nations of the world, a British survey on prison population shows. For every 100,000 people, 359 are in prison - above the sum total of Cambodia (46), Malaysia (121), Brunei (120) and Indonesia (29). It also exceeds those in developed countries such as Japan (48), France (85), Britain (139) and Australia (116).
And again, I must ask, is the logical result of this fact that a reduction in penalty would be salutary? I suppose the alternative argument is that the death penalty is not useful, and the interests of preserving human life are paramount, but that is a policy decision which has been made by our Government.

Fact #4 : While we hang small-time drug couriers, the Singapore Government invests in companies owned by Burma's most notorious druglord, Lo Hsing Han.
Whether this is true, or not, this has nothing to do with the law in question.

Fact #5 : Currently, more than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty either in practice or in law. Singapore is one of 25 countries that are still carrying out executions. Not only that, we have the highest per capita rate of executions in the world.
This is similarly irrelevant. As stated above, this is a policy decision which has been made by our elected Government.

Fact #6 : There is a lack of safeguards in the judicial system to ensure that no innocent men or women should be executed. In an exchange during the final appeal of Malaysian trafficker Vignes Mourthi, when asked by the defence counsel if the public prosecutor was still maintaining that an innocent person be hanged because of legal procedure, Chief Justice Yong Pung How replied, "Yes. The answer is yes."
While it is possible that some reform in this area might be necessary, the response to even an absolute lack of safeguards is not to remove the law, especially where the situation under the law (as highlighted in previous "Facts") is such that there continue to be drug couriers. This claim may be meritorious, but it's conflation with calls for removal is unhelpful, and will probably cause it to be dismissed without consideration. Perhaps a more detailed analysis could be undertaken by interested parties.

Of course, I agree with the suggested response, which is to encourage open debate. I quote:

Think Centre, with the support of concerned members of civil society and the arts community, is organising a candlelight vigil for Shanmugam Murugesu. He is expected to be hanged on the morning of this day. The evening will involve a series of candlelit music, performances and readings by concerned, non-partisan individuals as an expression of our 3C's:"Compassion", "Care", & "Concern" .

Fri 6th May 2005
Time: 7 – 10 pm
Venue: The Substation arts centre garden,
45 Armenian Street
(Back Entrance by old National Library carpark)

Please come and participate. Admission is free.

This event will hopefully be the start of a public awareness campiagn to get Singaporeans to talk openly about the pros and cons of capital punishment in their country.