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#56: Looking at the death penalty for drugs in Singapore

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A sliver of hope

When you work on the issue of the death penalty in Singapore there is so rarely good news. But we’ve had some this week: Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, who was originally scheduled to be hanged on Friday morning, was granted a stay of execution on Thursday. His lawyers drew attention to a really important issue: that Pannir and his family were informed of the rejection of his clemency appeal and the date of his execution on the same day, leaving them with no time to seek legal advice on whether to challenge the clemency decision.

Pannir isn’t the first case; the family of Micheal Anak Garing, who was hanged in March, also received the clemency rejection and notice of execution on the same day (although they had a little bit more notice than Pannir’s family, who only had a week). In fact, I’ve been observing this shrinking window between clemency rejection and execution since the execution of Kho Jabing in 2016.

Law Minister Shanmugam has said that the Malaysian government has made three appeals for the lives of Malaysians on death row to be spared, but it’s just not possible for Singapore to oblige. He framed it as a matter of some Malaysian ministers being “ideologically opposed” to the death penalty, while Singapore doesn’t actually have a ideological stance on the issue—according to the Minister, we impose the death penalty merely because “evidence has shown that it is an effective deterrent, not for any other reason”.

N Surendran, advisor to the Malaysian NGO Lawyers of Liberty, wasn’t going to take this lying down.

You don’t have to just take Surendran’s word for it. Here’s Harm Reduction International’s 2018 overview of the death penalty for drugs worldwide.

Singapore’s drug rhetoric

Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, had more to say about Singapore’s capital punishment regime for drug offences. A survey done by his ministry found that only 52.7% of young Singaporeans (ages 13–30) found that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for drug trafficking. There were also more “liberal” attitudes towards marijuana—by which they mean that 87% of Singaporeans support Singapore’s policy towards marijuana (as opposed to the 97% who support the tough drug policies more generally). 🤨

Shanmugam also refers to a “small group” of “ideologically tuned individuals” who are trying to change people’s minds about the death penalty and drugs. He obviously sees as a Very Bad Thing, because he says this:

“If the next generation does not support the same level of enforcement efforts and our laws, the laws will lose their moral value. Once they do, it is only a matter of time before they get changed. […] So, when we see some signs, we need to deal with them.”

“Deal with them” how? And why can’t we have conversations about possibly changing our laws? Why can’t we have open, informed (I can’t emphasise this bit enough, because there is so much rhetoric and spin about drugs and the death penalty in Singapore) debates and discussions about drug policy and the death penalty?

How much does an elderly Singaporean need to meet their needs?

Watch this!

Researchers in Singapore are looking into a Minimum Income Standard in Singapore, and have found that a single elderly household needs S$1,379 a month to meet their needs, including things like clothing, transport, healthcare, and leisure.

Go, academics, go!

Three cheers for our academics this week! is a new website promoting scholarship of, by, and for Singapore. It was something that came out of the mobilisation of academics against the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. The website is a repository for their comments on POFMA, as well as collecting articles about university governance, and—very, very importantly—academic and intellectual freedom in Singapore. That last one is something that deserves a lot more attention, so I’m really glad this is getting off the ground.

Fear in Singapore

The Reuters Institute’s 2018 Digital News Report had lots of interesting findings (especially if you’re a media nerd), but one thing that leapt out: 63% of Singaporeans surveyed were “concerned that openly expressing their political views online could get them in trouble with the authorities”. Half of me is going “yikes”; the other half is surprised the percentage wasn’t actually higher!