Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Singapore’s Mandatory Death Penalty Regime: 31 Malaysian MPs and 11 Senators put their names to petition

1. As some of you may know, I have a personal interest in the mandatory death penalty regime, having written about it before, a link I probably shared with a small number of you.

Something even the Young PAP had a view about it seems!

2. I have been a little surprised this past week reading about the unusually forceful cries for clemency from Malaysia for a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker, Yong Vui Kong (aged 19 when he committed the offence of smuggling 47-odd grams of a Class A drug into Singapore). According to a citizen website, a total of 31 Malaysian MPs and 11 Senators have put their names to a petition seeking a reprieve for Vui Kong.

3. In my living memory, I cannot recall a more strident and co-ordinated campaign from the people sector in Malaysia seeking clemency for a Malaysian convict in Singapore. Even Anifah Aman, the Malaysian Foreign Minister has chipped in, no doubt because of the growing groundswell of public opinion in Malaysia.

4. But curiously, albeit unexpectedly, there is no real coverage of this issue in the government-managed Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. In fact, what appears to be developing is a clever campaign from the mainstream media in Singapore to disinform the public of the larger issues surrounding the mandatory death penalty, through omission and selective reportage. Some would argue this has always been a strategy of mainstream media, but I think the wiser among you would be better placed to confirm this.

5. Now let me be clear about it, there is enough anecdotal information to suggest that many Singaporeans are not against the death penalty, especially in regard to heinous crimes and even drug-smuggling. Considering that countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand not to mention the US retain the death penalty, it is virtually impossible to make a strong argument that can support doing away with the death penalty in this neck of the woods, especially considering the narrow scope of public discourse in a one-party dominated state such as Singapore.

6. The unique problem in the Singapore case (and Malaysia and Indonesia. I know India does not have a mandatory death penalty regime. I understand China does not as well, although someone mentioned to me that it applies if more than 50g of heroin is involved. In Singapore it is 15g. Would appreciate some clarification here on China and whether there is a mandatory death penalty regime for drugs) is that Singapore’s parliament, many years ago, passed the Misuse of Drugs (MDA) Act which invokes the mandatory death penalty. As I have stated elsewhere, in mandatory death sentence cases, mitigation is irrelevant and the judicial process concludes upon a finding of guilt. I disagree with this simply because it gives a judge no power to deviate from the MDA, even if there are extenuating circumstances relevant to an accused. Even if there are potentially reasonable grounds – low IQ, unique circumstances etc. to justify a sentence other than a death sentence, the judge is powerless to rule outside the ambit of the law. The process of imposing the mandatory death penalty is largely administrative, not judicial as popularly thought of.

7. The other problem with the mandatory death sentence regime is that it puts too much discretion in the hands of the Public Prosecutor (PP), the PAP state’s lawyer. While the PP must have discretion in general, because of the way the mandatory death sentence regime works, he/she effectively becomes the all powerful arbiter, as he/she holds has all the evidence and police investigation reports in hand. Ever so often, cases come to court where the accused has allegedly trafficked 14.99g of heroin. This boggles the mind. Needless to say, the PP has determined, often through the ubiquitous “laboratory test” that the pure heroin content had come up to 14.99 grams. What a lucky accused! Thank you PP! Who needs the separation of powers schema between the Executive and Judiciary anymore? The Chief Justice might as well appoint the Fairy-God mother to the bench!

8. Alex Au, one of Singapore’s finest bloggers has written about this in the context of Alan Shadrake’s book with superb cogency.

9. In light of the societal barometer, what ought to be called for is a move away from the mandatory death penalty regime. A similar case to Yong Vui Kong may well come up in a no-mandatory death penalty jurisdiction, and a judge may well sentence the accused to death, if the circumstances dictate so. The fear has been, and Lee Kuan Yew has verbalised this, is that judges will not dare to hang anyone if there were no mandatory death penalty regime. I am not going to get into this argument. I would think if that is the case, then a judge is mentally not fit to sit on the bench, and the Chief Justice made a rather poor choice (by the way, no one really knows about the procedure whereby High Court judges are selected in Singapore).

10. Now what the mainstream media (by extension PAP government) strategy appears to be is to suggest that people speaking out against the mandatory death penalty regime are actually speaking out against the death penalty regime. It is critical that civil society draw a distinction upon these two separate issues, because the government will lump them together, and if goes to a referendum (which it will not), I am very sure the pro-death penalty camp will come out tops because across race and religion, Asians, given our social attitudes and mores, are comfortable with murderers and drug traffickers being (not mules I would argue, masterminds) sent to the gallows. In the interests of justice and due process, it is vital that our eyes be firmly fixed on the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty regime in Singapore. That is the real Rubicon to cross in the immediate term. Why? Because of the case of Vignes Mourthi as covered by Alan Shadrake in his book, Once a Jolly Hangman, a case that weighs very heavily in my mind.

Excerpted from Alex Au’s aforementioned hyperlinked article:

“Chapter 18 recounts how Vignes Mourthi, a Malaysian who commuted to Singapore for work, was found guilty of trafficking 27.65 grams of heroin in 2002. Vignes claimed at his trial that he did not know he had heroin on him; he thought that what he had been given to hand over to a contact was a pack of precious incense stones used in Hindu worship, a claim of innocence he maintained throughout.

The prosecution’s case and the verdict rested mainly on a handwritten note by the arresting officer recording the alleged conversation that took place between the officer Rajkumar and Vignes just before the arrest on 20 September 2001. Rajkumar was posing as the buyer and in his undated note said that Vignes’ replies during the short conversation indicated the latter knew that what he had handed over were drugs. There was no corroboration of the account contained in this handwritten note, nor even any indication it was not written up far later, yet it was what the judge relied on to convict Vignes.

Vignes was hanged on 26 September 2003.

The day after Rajkumar arrested Vignes, a woman accused Rajkumar of raping and sodomising her. Two days later, on 23 September 2001, Rajkumar himself was arrested on these complaints. He was apparently not suspended from duty and continued to be part of the prosecution’s case against Vignes.

Eventually, the woman withdrew her accusations, but by then, police investigations had begun of Rajkumar and fellow officer Balbir Singh for offering large amounts of money to the woman to persuade her to do so. The men were later found guilty of corruption and sentenced to fifteen and six months’ imprisonment respectively. Page 161:

But it was not until Vignes Mourthi was hanged that Rajkumar’s trial began. When Rajkumar, whose contested testimony had sent Vignes Mourthi to the gallows, was sentenced, Judge Sia Aik Kor described his actions as ‘so obviously corrupt by the ordinary and objective standard that he must know his conduct is corrupt’. The judge also cited a precedent which found actions to be ‘akin to an attempt to subvert the course of justice’. So if he could subvert the course of justice to save himself from a long prison term, was he also capable of inventing those damning words that confirmed, in the eyes of trial judges, that Vignes Mourthi knew what he was doing?

First of all, isn’t it interesting that a case of rape, sodomy and corruption from an arrest of 23 September 2001 languishes for years while a capital case arising from an arrest of 20 September 2001 is finished and done with more quickly?

Shadrake pointed out that the police and very likely the Attorney-General’s Chambers knew even as Vignes was on trial, that their chief prosecution witness Rajkumar was himself under investigation for corruption and subverting justice. Surely this must be pertinent to Vignes’ case? Would knowledge of this not have been grounds for impeaching Rajkumar’s credibility and for reasonable doubt in Vignes’ case?

Shadrake asks why there was silence throughout; why Rajkumar’s trial didn’t commence until Vignes had been hanged.

I would ask: Was the silence judged necessary to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the case against Vignes? Was it felt that it was more important not to have it collapse, more important to protect the idea of the death penalty from disrepute, the image of police and prosecutorial infallibility, than the question of true justice to a man?”


Written by singapore 2025

07/08/2010 at 6:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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