Final 12 months, after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, Singapore’s authorities quietly restarted the execution of prisoners on dying row. The prompted renewed scrutiny of the city-state’s necessary use of the dying penalty, even in comparatively minor drug circumstances, with the United Nations expressing its concern over a pending “surge in execution notices.” The resumption of executions was additionally stridently opposed by a community of activists inside Singapore, who’ve been working for years for the abolition of the dying penalty.
Among the many most lively Singaporean abolitionists is Kirsten Han, a journalist who at the moment edits The Mekong Evaluate, a quarterly literary journal overlaying Asian tradition and politics. Han has been lively within the anti-death penalty motion since 2010, and is a member of the Transformative Justice Collective, a collective that seeks the reform of Singapore’s prison justice system. She additionally ceaselessly opines on abolition combat, and different points involving Singaporean politics and society, through her weekly e-newsletter We, The Citizens.
Han spoke with The Diplomat concerning the present state of the abolition combat in Singapore and regionally, the category elements that decide who falls sufferer to the nation’s extreme anti-drug legal guidelines, and what the Singaporean authorities’s response says about its views of political dissent.
Let’s begin by speaking about how you bought concerned within the marketing campaign for abolition in Singapore. Was this a logical outgrowth of your journalism or did it develop in parallel, because it have been?
I had a toe dipped in journalism then, however I used to be really an anti-death penalty activist first. In 2010, I started volunteering with The On-line Citizen, another information web site (that has since been shut down in Singapore and now operates in exile from Taiwan). Again then, TOC was working a marketing campaign advocating for the abolition of the necessary dying penalty, in order that was my introduction to the capital punishment difficulty. At across the similar time, I bought a job as a manufacturing assistant with Lianain Movies, and so they have been making a documentary about Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian dying row prisoner in Singapore. So I went from not figuring out very a lot concerning the dying penalty to being fairly immersed in it for a time period.
Earlier than that, I’d been blissful to belief the federal government to know what the perfect coverage to implement could be. I had plenty of religion that Singapore had a near-perfect judicial system and that they’d by no means ship somebody to dying row with out being 150 p.c positive that they have been responsible and deserving. I used to be very shocked to find that the necessary facet of the dying penalty disadvantaged judges of the power to train discretion in sentencing.
Past that, the Misuse of Medication Act additionally comprises presumption clauses that reverse the burden of proof – in the event you’re caught with a certain quantity of medicine (like 15 grams or extra of heroin) then you definately’re presumed to be trafficking and presumed to know the character of the drug, except you may show in any other case.
I noticed that the folks on dying row aren’t the large drug lords – they’re largely ethnic minority, working-class males who’ve already skilled marginalization and downsides in life. The extra I be taught concerning the dying penalty – and it’s been 12 years of involvement within the abolitionist motion now – the extra I’m satisfied that it’s a brutal injustice that has no place in any society.
The anti-death penalty marketing campaign seems to have grown in prominence over the previous 12 months. Specifically, the tragic case of Malaysian nationwide Nagaenthran Ok. Dharmalingam, who was executed on drug charges in April, generated appreciable worldwide media headlines, in addition to the attention of famous anti-death penalty activist Richard Branson. How has the PAP authorities responded to the marketing campaign’s latest elevated visibility? What do you suppose this says about its angle towards dissent and criticism in a broader sense?
The state had been very defensive with their public statements through the marketing campaign to avoid wasting Nagaen, insisting that he “knew what he was doing” and that Singapore wants the dying penalty. However I don’t actually bear in mind the regulation and residential affairs minister, Ok. Shanmugam, popping out to make many public statements on the time when there was probably the most worldwide protection and public outcry.
Since then, although, the federal government has doubled down on its pro-death penalty rhetoric, and the minister has taken swipes at anti-death penalty activists on social media – in a single put up, he known as us “narco liberals.” At the same time as the federal government tries to select fights with billionaires like Branson, they dismiss the voices and issues of Singaporeans who’ve taken half within the course of, signed petitions, written to their Members of Parliament, delivered clemency appeals to the president’s workplace, and took part in a wide range of actions and occasions calling for abolition of the dying penalty.
The response of the state to anti-death penalty activists highlights that they don’t see critics or activists as reliable stakeholders and voices within the debate. On the subject of this difficulty, there’s little or no good religion engagement or try to grasp why we’re abolitionists. The federal government sells this narrative that we’re radical bleeding hearts who romanticize dying row prisoners on the expense of individuals whose lives have suffered on account of drug use and dependancy.
However anybody who pays consideration to what we’re saying will know that we’re abolitionists as a result of such punitive “war on drugs” insurance policies don’t assist people who find themselves fighting power and dangerous drug use, and that our campaigning for abolition is a part of a wider push for change that will create a extra supportive and therapeutic surroundings for folks to obtain assist in the event that they want and wish it.
In defending its use of the dying penalty, PAP officers makes the utilitarian declare that it “works” – that it discourages the use and trafficking of medicine, and helps to maintain the folks of Singapore protected from the crime related to it. (Certainly, different Southeast Asian nations who preserve the dying penalty argue one thing comparable.) What proof does the federal government provide to help this declare?
Bluntly put, there isn’t a actual proof for this declare. One of many authorities surveys that the officers level to merely discovered that folks suppose the dying penalty is an efficient deterrence. That’s not the identical as proving that it is an efficient deterrence.
Let’s discuss concerning the class dimension of Singapore’s anti-drug insurance policies. What types of individuals are inclined to wind up on dying row, and what structural elements decide who does and doesn’t get prosecuted?
In my expertise over these previous 12 years, the general public on dying row are ethnic minorities, and largely from working-class backgrounds. A few of them have their very own struggles with substance use, whereas others ended up getting concerned with the drug commerce as a result of they have been gullible and manipulated into doing issues for his or her “friends” or “brothers,” as a result of they have been tricked, as a result of they have been threatened, or as a result of they have been determined and had very restricted choices.
I’ve by no means been capable of enter jail to talk to the prisoners straight, however I’ve spoken to many members of the family of dying row prisoners over time, and also you by no means must probe very deeply to appreciate that everybody has had experiences with trauma or deprivation or marginalization.
The state vehemently denies any direct discrimination in the way in which circumstances are dealt with, however even when we take their phrase for it, we shouldn’t neglect that oblique discrimination and structural elements come into play. There are specific areas in Singapore which have a stronger police presence and heavier surveillance than others. There are individuals who can afford to quietly pack up and journey overseas to go to costly non-public rehabilitation services, and individuals who can’t even see a health care provider in Singapore for assist with out being reported to the Central Narcotics Bureau.
Even when individuals are caught for drug possession or consumption and get despatched to jail or the state-run Drug Rehabilitation Centre (which is actually jail by one other title), there are individuals who may need extra assets to select themselves up once more upon launch and discover regular jobs, and folks whose households aren’t capable of present that type of help or social capital, and they also simply must battle with stigma and discrimination that makes their lives even tougher – which is why they may flip again to medication and even enter the drug commerce.
Do we’ve any sense concerning the public attitudes towards the dying penalty in Singapore and towards abolition? Do you suppose the marketing campaign’s targets get pleasure from public help? If not, how does this have an effect on the anti-death penalty trigger?
I feel the vast majority of Singaporeans would nonetheless say they’re in favor of the dying penalty. However in my expertise, this help will not be as agency as the federal government claims. The federal government factors to its personal surveys to say that almost all Singaporeans help its insurance policies, however a survey done by NUS Law discovered that it could be “misleading to say, without qualifications, that there is public support for the death penalty in Singapore.” Additionally they discovered that there’s weak help for the necessary dying penalty in Singapore – which is definitely the most typical use case of the dying penalty right here.
Public data of how the dying penalty really works in Singapore could be very poor. The native mainstream media largely echo the federal government’s stance on the dying penalty and drug coverage. So we’ve to do plenty of work to coach and inform the general public concerning the realities of the capital punishment regime and the issues with tremendous harsh and punitive drug insurance policies. We now have to make folks understand that it’s not a method to obtain justice, restore harms, and preserve folks protected.
The final couple of years have introduced blended information on the capital punishment entrance. On the progressive aspect of the ledger was Malaysia’s decision last year to abolish the necessary use of the dying penalty, however we’ve additionally had the rash of executions in Singapore and the ghastly revival of capital punishment by Myanmar’s army authorities. How do you see the state of the abolition battle each in Singapore and in Asia extra broadly?
Sadly Singapore’s isn’t the one authorities that adheres to the capital punishment. The developments in Malaysia are hopeful – I stay up for them formally abolishing the necessary dying penalty, and taking concrete steps in direction of full abolition.
Each time there’s progress in Asia or Southeast Asia, it’s excellent news for everybody. As a result of anti-death penalty activists are so typically accused of “importing Western values” to our Asian societies, each step ahead taken by an Asian nation demonstrates that this isn’t just a few “Western” factor. And naturally, each particular person spared the execution chamber, no matter the place they’re — whether or not it’s Singapore, or Malaysia, or Taiwan, or Japan, or the U.S. — is nice information.