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This week, a long hard look at justice

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
5 min read
This week, a long hard look at justice

Apologies for not sending a round-up this morning as I usually do. It’s been a very full-on past few days and it completely flew out of my head.

I hope you found the FAQ that I sent on the death penalty on drugs useful — this is an issue that more people need to know and think about. Feel free to share and republish it; if you want to adapt parts of it into infographics, illustrations, or comics, go ahead too! (It would be nice if you could credit and/or link back, though.)


Death and criminal justice

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on with death row inmates recently:

After a pause earlier this year, Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin is (as far as we know) the first inmate to be facing the gallows as the authorities resume executions. He was supposed to be hanged yesterday, but his pro bono lawyer, M Ravi, managed to get a stay of execution, buying him some more time. We don’t know exactly how much time that that is right now: it could be as a little as a week, or much more.

Hearing that an interim stay had been granted by the High Court on Thursday wasn’t the end of the anxiety for Syed and his family, as the prison took hours to confirm that the execution was indeed on hold. At first, the prison told Syed’s family and Ravi that they had received no instructions about a stay; it was only at about 9pm that they finally confirmed to Syed’s sister that there was indeed a stay and that they would not be hanging her brother the next morning. What took them so long? Was there something about their internal protocol or processes that failed here?

In any case, we can all heave a sigh of relief that Syed is still alive, giving us more time to campaign for him and urge the Cabinet and the President to grant him clemency.

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news: Moad Fadzir bin Mostaffa, another Malay Singaporean on death row for drugs, has been scheduled to hang this coming Thursday (24 September). His mother has been instructed to prepare for his funeral.

It’s difficult to fully verify the information that death row inmates provide, but, according to Syed, there are over 50 people on death row, many of whom are in danger of imminent execution as their clemency appeals have been exhausted. I’m worried that this could mean another spike in the number of executions, like in 2018 when 13 people were executed — six of them in a single month.

This is all happening at a time when we’re already talking about issues with investigations, prosecutions, and the criminal justice system in Singapore. The recent acquittal of the Indonesian domestic worker Parti Liyani demonstrated clearly that the police, the prosecution, and the courts are all imperfect, and that mistakes can be made.

The poor and marginalised often have to rely on the goodwill and commitment of pro bono lawyers, especially those who are willing to go the extra mile. We saw this with Anil Balchandani in Parti’s case, but also recently with Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya, and Johannes Hadi in their persistence in the case of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, who was acquitted this past week when the Court of Appeal overturned their own decision. If the lawyers hadn’t kept on with the case and pushed for the apex court’s decision to be reviewed, Ilechukwu could potentially have been sentenced to death and hanged.

Well, I guess the soul-searching is over

After GE2020, the PAP once again promised us that they were going to do some “soul-searching”. Once again, the most optimistic among us wondered if there was going to be some change, if they were finally going to learn that old tactics and uses of power should be retired.

Nope.

The police are now investigating New Naratif after the Elections Department filed reports against them for alleged illegal election activity. What was this “illegal election activity”? Apparently it had to do with some sponsored posts on Facebook, although it’s not clear how what New Naratif posts counts as election advertising. New Naratif has denounced the move as intimidation.

Separately, Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan has been issued a stern warning (i.e. an opinion of the police, with no legal weight) for the old Facebook comments the police began investigating in the middle of the election campaign period. A stern warning was also issued to Abdul Malik Mohammed Ghazali, who had bragged about sharing Raeesah’s post in a move to get her dropped from politics. On the other hand, no warning was issued to Xiaxue, who had been reported for an old tweet characterising migrant workers are molesters and sexual predators.

POFMA challenges with implications for press freedom

If you’re interested in media freedom in Singapore, this is a POFMA appeal to watch. The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in the cases of The Online Citizen and the Singapore Democratic Party’s appeals against POFMA orders. I particularly want to highlight these points brought up in relation to TOC’s case, as reported by the Straits Times:

“Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash noted that the nature of journalism entails some pressure to publish in a timely fashion. To this, Mr Hui said: "As a responsible journalist, if you report on something, and not just anything but something that affects the public interest, you should make attempts to verify."

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon suggested this "imposes quite a burden on responsible journalism".

He posed a hypothetical scenario of a newspaper receiving information from a whistle-blower which is a matter of public interest, but cannot report on it until it is proven.

"It worries me that you're saying Pofma allows the minister to come to a journalist and say you can't report that, or if you're going to report then you have to tell the world that you say it is untrue," he said.

He added this would mean there is a whole slew of things that the media cannot bring to Singaporeans' attention until it is proven.

Mr Hui, though, voiced concern over allowing news outlets to publish any claim just by qualifying it as an allegation and indicating they had asked the Government for comments. In the case of whistle-blowing, he said, there were other ways to raise the issue, and "mass communicating" it when it could affect Singaporeans is not the only way.

To this, CJ Menon said: "I'm a tiny bit concerned, Mr Hui, that your suggestion is that Pofma was meant to protect Singaporeans from themselves, I don't think that is correct.”

I’m glad this came up. It’s particularly important because, from personal experience, I know that ministries and other public agencies do stonewall journalists, particularly those they see as more critical, or when “inconvenient” questions are being asked.

The migrant workers’ struggle against COVID-19 continues

Quarantines and lockdowns continue for many migrant workers living in dormitories. While the government has said that they’re piloting better standards, things haven’t substantially changed in the current dormitories, where workers are still living in close quarters. This means that if one guy tests positive of COVID-19, large numbers might end up being quarantined too.

We have also reached the Arsehole Boss Reveal stage: a general manager of a company has been fined $9,000 for confining three migrant workers in a room for a total over 42 days over May and June.

Labourtel Management Corporation, who runs dorms, has also been fined $118,000 after inspections found their dormitories substandard and filthy. One of their directors was fined $59,000, and an officer fined $22,000. Labourtel runs Penjuru Dormitories 1 and 2, Blue Stars Dormitory, and The Leo (where the very first migrant worker to test positive for COVID-19 lived, although the authorities seemed to deal with things then).


I’m sorry issue is so depressing — I’ve been on a downer myself. If you’re looking for more light-hearted stuff, I’ll once again direct you to my current favourite form of escapism, period Chinese dramas. If you want something more thoughtful but not so maudlin, I’ve also written an essay about The Singapore Grip and colonial narratives.

As always, I’d be very grateful if you could spread the word about this newsletter, or become a Milo Peng Funder (if you aren’t already one!)

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