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Women don't need "development"; it's the patriarchy that needs to go

Before we dive into this week’s round-up there’s a correction that I would like to highlight with regard to the previous special issue that I sent on Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin’s case. In 2018, the Singapore Prison Service forwarded his private correspondence on to the Attorney-General’s Chambers — what I’d missed at the time of sending out the issue was that the prison regulations saying that the prison can’t make copies of letters of inmates’ correspondence with their lawyers was only introduced after the prison had sent out Syed’s letters. I’ve edited the previous issue on the website accordingly. Still, the issue about solicitor-client privilege remains!

Go Parti Go

Freshly acquitted of all charges of theft, Parti Liyani — the Indonesian domestic worker who went head-to-head with her very wealthy and highly influential boss — isn’t done. She’s now applying to the court to seek disciplinary proceedings against the prosecutors who handled her case. If she succeeds there could be a disciplinary tribunal to look into whether there was misconduct on the part of the prosecutors. If misconduct is found, penalties could include being struck off the roll, or a fine up of up to S$20,000, among other things.

This is, as Jolovan Wham points out in his Twitter thread below (click on the tweet to open the entire thread), no easy feat:

A respite in the death row cases

It’s been an intense fortnight on the death penalty front, as two Malay Singaporeans narrowly escaped the gallows… for now.

Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin appeared in court on Tuesday. It was a physical hearing so I got to attend and sit in the gallery and stew in person. Quite a lot of arguments were made; I found the Straits Times’ coverage of it a little misleading — especially since the story was edited to privilege the Ministry of Home Affairs’ view — but the South China Morning Post covered it too. The main argument that the Court of Appeal seemed most interested in was M Ravi’s argument that, based on Syed’s claim that the prison is scheduling the executions of Singaporean inmates first (since foreigners can’t get visits from their families), Article 12 of Singapore’s Constitution, which states that all are equal before the law, has been violated since lives are not treated alike. More submissions are to be made, and the next court hearing can’t be before 7 October, so Syed’s stay of execution will remain in place at least until then.

One other thing that struck me, though, was that the Court of Appeal didn’t seem particularly worked up about the fact that, in 2018, privileged communication between Syed and his lawyer had been forwarded to the prosecution. It seemed like their position was that that fact in itself wasn’t bad enough to say that Syed’s case had been prejudiced. What if it had been a mistake? a judge asked. What if it had been inadvertent? No person or organisation is perfect. Which is something that anti-death penalty activists say all the time when we argue that the capital punishment is really unsafe given the inevitability of mistakes — I just never thought I would hear it deployed in this way to give the Attorney-General’s Chambers possible benefit of the doubt in a capital case. Furthermore, the court also seemed rather with the deputy public prosecutor’s statement that while he’d seen the file icons for the letters forwarded by the prison, he hasn’t actually read them. But he say, we hear, who confirm?

Separately, Moad Fadzir bin Mostaffa, who had originally been scheduled to hang on last Thursday, was granted a respite by the president, which means that his execution is on hold until she says. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it being done (which is not to say that it hasn’t been done before, just that it at least hasn’t been done in a long time).

“Women Development”

This is promising news for gender equality in Singapore. The government has announced that they’ll be reviewing issues related to women in Singapore. Dialogues and discussions will feed into the writing of a White Paper to be tabled early next year.

The review is called “Conversations in Women Development”. Some civil society groups have already publicly praised Law Minister K Shanmugam for this move, which I find rather premature, since agreeing to have a national conversation about women’s issues and gender is a rather low bar — we haven’t actually seen any substantive change yet! This is the sort of work that ministers and elected representatives should be doing!

I hope that good things will come out of this, and that more fundamental questions about justice and power dynamics will be asked. I’m not particularly taken by the framing of it as being about “women development”, which sounds a little “lean in”-y and about how to work on women so they can get onto more company boards and whatnot — I hope that’s not going to be how this is going to turn out! After all, it’s not women who need to be developed (as if the problem is that we were previously incapable, too shy, or lacking), it’s patriarchal power structures that needs dismantling!


There’s been more discussion about the death penalty in Singapore recently because of Syed and Fadzir’s cases. I don’t think it’s hit the mainstream, but it’s encouraging to see more people consider capital punishment and justice.

For those who don’t consent to the state executing people in our names, this petition is one way to make your position clear. It’s a position for Singaporeans who believe the death penalty should be completely abolished — I’m interested to see how many signatures it’ll get. At the time of writing, it’s over 2,500, which seems pretty good to me considering how many previous petitions about the death penalty never managed to get such a response.

I’ve also been sharing problematic capital cases in Singapore. Click on the tweets below to read the full threads.

Thank you for reading! My laptop just went to the shop today and it’ll be about three to five days before I get it back. It shouldn’t affect the next weekly round-up of this newsletter, but I’m just flagging this to everyone just in case!

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