World Day Against the Death Penalty
On Monday, the day before the World Day Against the Death Penalty, five families of death row prisoners past and present made their way to the Ministry of Home Affairs building. They wanted to present a petition, signed by over 1,700 people across Singapore, calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty pending an independent and transparent review. They were not allowed into the building, and ended up having to hand the petition over to the security officers at the gate.
They later read out a statement, which you can read in full here, to the press:
Since March 2022, the Singapore government has killed 16 people as part of a violent, senseless war on drugs. We cannot lose any more lives. We refuse to stand by and watch as the state continues to take precious lives. As resistance to the death penalty in Singapore has grown locally and internationally, the government has doubled down on its stubborn insistence on taking life. As our loved ones on death row have come together to challenge unjust laws and practices, conditions on death row have worsened, with many of them claiming they are facing various forms of abuse, deprivation and intimidation. Some of us family members have lost our jobs and our families for speaking up against the death penalty. But we will not stop fighting for justice, because the cost of staying silent is heavier.
We have asked the Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, to meet with us. As the most vocal and determined advocate in government for the continued use of the death penalty, we urge him to face us, the victims of this barbaric cruelty. We want him to listen to our stories, to our pain, and confront our humanity.
In recent weeks and months, Minister Shanmugam has been giving speeches at venues around Singapore, asserting his belief that the death penalty for drugs is essential to “save lives”. We, and others who care about ending the death penalty, don’t get to speak at these venues. We don’t get any of the platforms he has access to, and, in fact, we are actively prevented from sharing our experiences and perspectives. If the government has so much faith that it stands on the side of truth, justice and people’s welfare, why is it afraid to let us speak, to let the public hear what we have to say? The government has millions of dollars to pump into messages that paint a terrifying and skewed portrait of drugs, people who use drugs, and those who get entangled in the drug trade. All we have is our love, our truth, and our voice. And we will keep using it.
The fight for the abolition of the death penalty continues. As if being sentenced to death is torture enough, we've also heard from prisoners of more suffering in their cells. It's been swelteringly hot in Singapore of late; even those of us who get to hide in air-conditioned environs for large chunks of the day wilt whenever we have to pop outside. Imagine what it must be like in concrete cells in prison, without even a fan to provide relief. One prisoner told his sister, in tears, that they're worried they'll actually die from the heat.
Also death penalty-related this week: Academia.sg has published an analysis, written by Dr Mai Sato, of the government's studies on public opinion on and the deterrent effect of the death penalty in Singapore. It's really worth reading in its entirety—and check out the Appendix too—but the tl;dr is: "Based on MHA’s research, current evidence on the deterrent effect of the death penalty for drug trafficking is too weak to demonstrate effectiveness. In addition, the Singaporean public does not appear to be clamouring for the retention of the death penalty for drug trafficking. Whom and what purpose the death penalty serves in Singapore remains unanswered."
Another workplace death
A 29-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker died this past week after falling 10 storeys at a HDB BTO worksite. He'd been guiding a crane operator to move a material waste bucket when the bucket swung and hit him. He fell along with the fall protection barriers.
As the Migrant Death Map shows, Singapore can be a deadly place for many low-wage migrant workers who are counting on their jobs here to provide for better lives for their families back home. In early August the Straits Times reported that there have been at least 16 workplace fatalities up to that point in 2023. There have been consistent calls for more protections, more measures to respect their rights, their health and their safety, starting from the very fundamentals of treating them like human beings with dignity and agency rather than digits subordinate to Singapore's pursuit of urban growth.
Conflict and devastation
This past week a lot of my social media feed was taken over by people—in Singapore and out—weighing in on the violence in Israel and Gaza. Some of them have devolved into nasty fights that don't help anyone. Apart from sharing a post here or there I've been keeping quiet because there is absolutely zero need for my opinion on this matter; I'm neither an authority on the history and contours of this ongoing conflict, nor do I have a direct personal stake in what's going on, so it feels like anything I say will be meaningless hot air.
But since it's really been dominating the news and social media chatter, inclusion in this newsletter felt warranted. Some short points:
- If you're looking for ways to help, organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) are responding to the crisis as best they can. You can donate to support their work here: ICRC and MAP.
- There are close military ties between Singapore and Israel. As we lament violence and loss of life, it's worth remembering that our country is not a completely neutral bystander. We might not be the ones directly laying siege to and bombing civilians in Gaza right now—which, even as we condemn Hamas's targeting and kidnapping of civilians, is horrific and cruel—but do we know how much of our tie-ups, joint ventures and arms trade with the Israeli military has fed into or enabled the oppression of and violence against Palestinians? (Genuine question, by the way, anyone have any data on how much?)
- Disinformation and misinformation are all over the place on social media. Twitter has been particularly shitty for it. So please be careful about what you're reading and sharing!
- For people looking to read up, I read The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust years ago and learnt a lot from it back then. It's a memoir by Noam Chayut, chronicling his journey enthusiastic Zionist conscript to the Israeli military to a campaigner against Israeli occupation. It's not a comprehensive book on the history and politics of Israel and Palestine, but I find such personal accounts and reflections powerful, so thought I'd pop the link here in case anyone else might be interested.
On my radar...
This section has shifted a number of times over the course of this newsletter's life: from frivolous stuff to a regional look and back again. I've decided to just keep it open and link to whatever feels worth sharing...
🧵 Things kicked off over on Threads this week—there's a lot more activity on there now than before, especially with Twitter on its path to complete toxicity. I'm finding things still quite US-centric, though, so inviting Asian or Asia-based journalists, writers, translators, photographers, artists etc. to introduce themselves over at Mekong Review's thread here.
🎸 On Wednesday, Xdinary Heroes dropped their fourth mini-album, Livelock. I think it's actually my favourite from them so far. Have a listen to their title track.