Singapore steps back from death penalty in some drug cases
Singapore plans to ease its mandatory death penalty in some drug and murder cases, but not abolish the ultimate punishment that human rights groups condemn as barbaric.
The wealthy south-east Asian city-state, which has a zero tolerance policy on illegal drugs and imposes long jail terms on convicted users, has hanged hundreds of people – including dozens of foreigners – for narcotics offences in the past two decades, Amnesty International and other groups have said.
Science fiction writer William Gibson has described Singapore as “Disneyland with the death penalty”.
But deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean told parliament yesterday that the government, reflecting changes in “our society’s norms and expectations”, will put forward a draft law by the end of this year to give judges more leeway for certain cases.
He said: “While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that, where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts.”
To avoid execution for drug trafficking, two specific conditions must be met, he said. First, the accused must have acted only as a courier, with no other part in the supply or distribution. Second, a courier could be spared if they have a “mental disability” that means they don’t understand the gravity of the act. They will instead receive life imprisonment with caning.
Alan Shadrake, a British author jailed last year for criticisms of Singapore’s judiciary in his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, welcomed the proposed changes.
“It’s not the end of the death penalty. But it’s a move in the right direction that no-one really expected,” he said from Kuala Lumpur, where he now lives.
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