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Changi Prison turns into a slaughterhouse

Here we are at another Saturday! Apologies for not sending out a weekly wrap last weekend; as I explained in an email to Milo Peng Funders, I’ve been grappling with burn-out (among other things) and ended up just having to give up on work last Friday/Saturday.

I’ve just returned from a conference organised by the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) on the death penalty for drugs in Malaysia. Not only did I learn a lot — actual medical professionals and healthcare practitioners say that punitive drug policies like the death penalty actually! don’t! help! and make it harder! for necessary reforms! — it was also a great opportunity to meet friends, some of whom I’ve been in touch with for a long time without actually meeting face-to-face before.

Executions continue apace

I so, so wish I could write about something else. But this year has just been relentless. Nazira, the sister of Nazeri Lajim, recently called Changi Prison a “slaughterhouse”, and I think she’s right. That’s what it’s become this year. The pace of executions have been ramped up to an unbelievable level.

Nazeri was hanged a week ago, on 22 July. A day later, members of the Transformative Justice Collective’s death penalty working group (myself included) started hearing from families of death row prisoners that another execution had been scheduled for 26 July. The prisoner’s family had received an execution notice the Tuesday before, but because we weren’t already in touch with them and they didn’t want to go public, we hadn’t heard about it until the other prisoners could tell their families during Saturday visits.

A day after that prisoner was hanged, we found out that two more executions were scheduled for 2 August. The two families have also chosen not to go public.

On Friday morning, Abdul Rahim bin Shapiee’s sister was informed by the prison that her brother has been scheduled for execution on 5 August. We suspect that his co-accused has also received an execution notice, but aren’t in touch with the family to confirm or get consent to report his name publicly. Based on the practice of hanging co-accused persons on the same day, it does seem likely that there might be two executions on 5 August. 😔

If these four executions take place next week, Singapore will have killed 10 men (out of 14 execution notices) since the end of March, all for drug offences. Even as countries around the world move away from the War on Drugs — because the evidence shows that it does not work! — Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has recently been doubling down on the rhetoric.

Is Singapore’s War on Drugs Working?
Who bears the brunt of Singapore’s drug policies?

With more people on death row who have exhausted their legal avenues, the risk of further executions is extremely high. Regular protocol has also been left far behind: it used to be that executions would only take place on Fridays at dawn, but in 2018 we saw executions take place on Wednesdays. This year, we’ve seen executions happen on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. What this means is that family members of death row prisoners live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, worrying that they could get a call or letter from the prison any day of the week giving them seven days’ notice of a hanging.

Every death row case is urgent and desperate, but the situation this year is especially horrific. There’s been no time to process or grieve before new execution notices are issued. Families and activists are all struggling with this breathless, merciless acceleration. Every Singaporean is needed to speak out about this horrific practice that flies in the face of evidence and expert opinion. We need to #StopTheKilling, right now.

Rajapaksa’s still here, guys

The International Truth and Justice Project, which has documented alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, has filed a complaint with Singapore’s Attorney-General calling on Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be arrested and prosecuted for breaches of the Geneva Convention committed in his time as the defence chief during the civil war in 2009. Singapore hasn’t done that. Instead, we’ve extended his visa for another 14 days.

A pro-377A town hall

There’s been chatter that Section 377A of the Penal Code — which criminalises sex between men — is likely on its way out sooner rather than later. I’m assuming the conservatives have heard the same, since they organised a town hall, attended by about 1,200 people, demanding that 377A be retained until there are “safeguards” for the “traditional” definition of marriage and family being hetty-het-heterosexual. The police have said that the event wasn’t illegal since it was private and a permit wasn’t necessary.

“Silent no more,” the organisers of the town hall declared. My question is: you all have been very quiet meh?

The news of the town hall also came not long after an educator at Hwa Chong Institution was reprimanded and suspended from teaching sex ed classes after he included homophobic content in his presentation to students.

Got some more…

✍🏼 Read this by Diana Rahim about poetry, Singapore, and how we kicked Zakir Hossain Khokan, a precious migrant worker poet who contributed so much to the country, out.

“Zakir is a poet, and if you are a writer of any kind in Singapore, what has happened to him should concern you, as it raises serious questions about the scalpel of brute fact-checking and literalist (mis)interpretation that was set to Zakir’s poem. Can it also be set on any piece of literature? Are we to be content with our literature being treated this way?”

🏡 Sudhir Vadaketh has produced an e-book on the Lee family feud over 38 Oxley Road.

💻 The High Court dismissed The Online Citizen’s challenge against a POFMA direction it had received in relation to its reporting on the way police officers had treated an elderly woman not wearing a mask. The judge said that it was a moot point anyway, since TOC is now defunct.

Checking in on the neighbours

🇲🇲 When it comes to the death penalty, Myanmar was for a long time considered “abolitionist in practice”. Not anymore. The military junta shocked the country and the world when it suddenly carried out the executions of four pro-democracy activists. Read this editorial from Myanmar Now:

Myanmar is a nation ruled by murderers. There is no other way to describe a regime that uses snipers to shoot protesters in the head and airstrikes and ground attacks to wipe out entire villages; that tortures prisoners to death and kills at will as it rampages through resistance strongholds. This is a regime willing to spill any amount of blood to stay in power.

But even in a country that has lived under the spectre of this homicidal rage for nearly a year and a half, many were stunned by the news on Monday that four political prisoners, including veteran activist Ko Jimmy and former MP Phyo Zayar Thaw, had been executed inside Yangon’s Insein Prison.

A chart showing the number of executions that have taken place in Singapore from 2007–2022 so far.

Thank you for reading this week! As always, please help me spread the word about this newsletter by sharing it widely.