04/26/2023, 16.28
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Singapore’s latest drug-related execution revives death penalty debate

by Steve Suwannarat

The last executions were carried out a year ago. Local authorities argue that most Singaporeans are in favour of the noose, but research casts doubt on their claim. Critics slam local courts that impose punitive order costs on lawyers who represent death row prisoners.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – Tangaraju Suppiah was hanged this morning after he was convicted of smuggling a kilo of cannabis from Malaysia.

The death of the 46-year-old man, a year and a day after that of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam and 11 other people guilty of drug-related crimes, ended a week of desperate attempts to have his sentence suspended.

During the COVID-19 pandemic executions were suspended for two years.

According to the Singapore government, the death penalty has overwhelming support among Singaporeans at 83 per cent.

Other surveys cited by the authorities in response to criticism indicate that people believe that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent than prison sentences against drug trafficking in the country.

Yet, for government critics, polls show more the authorities’ power to influence the population than that latter’s informed opinion; in fact, research by the University of Singapore found that in 2018, 60 per cent of respondents said they knew "little or nothing" about capital punishment.

Still, today's execution has put the death penalty back in the spotlight. The legal battle to suspend the sentence failed in the end, but highlighted a series of legal shortcomings in the way evidence is collected, confession obtained and trials conducted.

The appeals of local and international groups opposed to the death penalty were also unheeded, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Opposition by people like Virgin Group owner Richard Branson was seen as undue interference in Singapore’s domestic affairs.

On his blog, the British entrepreneur got in a tiff with the authorities in Singapore, where “capital punishment has already been in the spotlight due to its disproportionate use on minorities, [and] an obsession with small-scale drug traffickers”.

By way of a response, Singapore officials called the UK billionaire’s claims patently untrue. Nevertheless, last year, the International Commission of Jurists slammed the city-state for imposing punitive cost orders on lawyers who have represented clients on death row, calling for an end to this practice, which obstructs death-row inmates’ access to justice and effective remedies, their right to legal counsel, with several forced to represent themselves in court.

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