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Defamation, deterrence, and trips to nowhere

Hello to new subscribers to this newsletter, and another big hello to new Milo Peng Funders! Thank you for being here.

Today (Saturday) is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. I’ll be speaking on Amnesty International Malaysia’s panel about my experience as an anti-death penalty activist this afternoon — come join us! You can watch it on Facebook Live, or register to join the Zoom webinar.

Is sharing publishing? Liddat can kena defamation?

A lot of focus this past week was placed on the trial for the defamation suit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against Leong Sze Hian. I sat in the public gallery on the first day when Lee, who is suing in his personal capacity, was cross-examined by Leong’s defence counsel Lim Tean — if you missed my round-up, you can catch up here.

I didn’t make it in on the second day, when the trial ended two days early because the defence decided that Leong wouldn’t take the stand — they claimed that there was “no case to answer” and therefore no need for him to give evidence in court.

There was also an expert witness on the second day: Phan Tuan Quang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Information Management at the University of Hong Kong. Dr Phan’s expert opinion was that, based on his research of how things spread on Facebook, the post that Leong shared could have conservatively reached “between 200 and 400 Facebook users”.

During the cross-examination, Lim pointed out that paragraphs of Dr Phan’s expert witness report was word-for-word identical to paragraphs in Lee’s affidavit of evidence-in-chief. “I am putting it to you, Dr Phan, that the role you are assuming in this court is not really that of an independent expert with an independent duty to the court, but you are engaging in argument on behalf of the plaintiff,” Lim said. Dr Phan disagreed.

Written submissions to the court will follow, with the next hearing date for oral submissions on 30 November.

Correlation ≠ Causation, People’s Feelings ≠ Proof

The Workers’ Party’s Jamus Lim filed parliamentary questions on whether the government has commissioned any studies to determine the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Minister of Home Affairs K Shanmugam gave a written answer which MHA has helpfully also made into this infographic:

My responses are already in the heading of this section: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because there was a drop in firearms offences and kidnapping doesn’t mean that this drop was caused by the death penalty being a deterrent. MHA has provided data showing that the numbers have dropped — what they haven’t done is provided evidence proving a causal relationship between these falling numbers and capital punishment. And remember: given the harsh and irreversible nature of the death penalty, it isn’t enough to prove effectiveness — it also needs to be demonstrated that it is more effective than any other punishment. The onus is on those who want to impose the death penalty to prove that there really is no other way but to deliberately kill some people. And so far, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that this is the case.

Furthermore, there is a huge difference between showing that people think the death penalty is an effective deterrent, and proving that the death penalty is a deterrent. 😵

Environmental tax and trips to nowhere

Singapore Airlines had initially wanted to launch “flights to nowhere”, but canned the idea after review. This was good news for the climate groups who had actively organised to urge the company to reconsider the idea, but guess what? Now cruise lines are going to do “cruises to nowhere”. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.

Also, please read this Twitter thread (click on it to open!) by WP’s Jamus Lim elaborating on his question about imposing environmental taxes. He’s also written a Facebook post about how it’s important to considering the environment even when we’re trying to support and save businesses.

Got some more…

Dickson Yeo, who pleaded guilty to acting as an illegal agent for the Chinese government in the United States (I covered this in a past issue), has been sentenced to 14 months in prison.

Transformative Justice Collective

On this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty, I’m happy to introduce this new collective that I’m a part of: the Transformative Justice Collective! We’re a collective founded on transformative justice principles seeking to deepen public understanding and discourse on issues related to criminal justice, and we’re starting with a focus on the abolition of the death penalty.

You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (We’ll eventually have a website, but we’re still working on that!)

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