When trying to select an appropriate imagery for my post this time, I admit I was a little unsure what to select. Perhaps a network of roads or crossroads to discuss how in life we are faced with a number of paths or options in our conduct and decisions in life. Maybe something related to our Singaporean flag or pledge because of the many “unity” issues that came up this week that made me think a lot about my country and fellow nationals. In the end, I settled on the imagery of time. Without turning this into a philosophical post about the sanctity and scarcity of time and its finite nature and how what we therefore do in our lifetime is paramount, I want to share the events of the week, which has been filled with opportunities for reflection.
If you are connected to me on my Facebook Account, you would already know that another state sanctioned killing took place on Friday 19th May 2017 when 32 year old Muhammad Ridzuan was hung at dawn, making him the third person to be hung this year. The killing was UNLAWFUL and at several different places and in videos, my colleagues at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, my fellow anti-death campaigners at Second Chances, campaigners at SADPC and I have presented our points as to why we argue so.
Ridzuan who was then 25, was convicted with one Abdul Haleem for jointly trafficking in heroin. Both Ridzuan and Abdul Haleem were found to be mere couriers under section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Despite the finding by the Court that Ridzuan was a mere courier, the Public Prosecutor refused to give Ridzuan a certificate of substantial assistance, yet extended it to his joint trafficker. Ridzuan was thus sentenced to death, while Abdul Haleem who was given a certificate of substantial assistance, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Read more here.
Is there no chance of rehabilitation for a young Singaporean offender who was only 25 years of age and even then only a mere courier? Should 2 offenders who committed the same offence be given very different sentences based solely on the Public Prosecutor’s determination?
Our petition to the Presidency to stop the execution fell on deaf ears. We received a reply that he will not direct a constitutional court to be convened under Article 100 of the Constitution to look into the issue of the fairness of the trial (copy of the letter is posted in social media).
That night, before the hanging, hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans and supporters from all walks of life joined me outside Changi Prison. Those who could not attend physically, were with me virtually through Facebook Live. Sentiments were high (and still are) and hundreds posted comments in Facebook to stand up against this barbaric atrocity. International legal and human rights communities have also supported us and issued statements, such as this one here by Amnesty International and this one here by the European Union Delegation to Singapore. I was also pleased that we got to hear from someone working inside the Prison School (Ridzuan’s teacher) who spoke about the importance of rehabilitation and fostering a more compassionate society. Of course, there were many who also supported the death penalty, arguing that the focus should also be placed on the many victims of drug abuse who suffer as a direct consequence of the actions of couriers. They are not wrong of course. We are not promoting drug use. We are not on the side of those who create such ills in our society. Our arguments are premised on evidence that the death penalty IS NOT an effective deterrent, that there is room for rehabilitation, that the drug lords and kingpins remain unscathed, that the rule of law is breached when prosecutors are able to decide who gets to stay alive, instead of the judges and when the President seeks advice from the Cabinet on clemency decisions.
POVERTY NOT RACE
In this post, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss a few repercussions of Friday’s state sanctioned murder. There have been a few attempts in social media posts to either deliberately or unintentionally cast Ridzuan’s execution as a racial/religious issue. As my colleague Eugene Thuraisingam has already pointed out, there is no basis to do so. The only issue in Ridzuan’s case is whether it is appropriate for the AG to decide in each individual’s case, who lives and who dies. The comparison between Ridzuan and his accomplice should only be to highlight that two different people who have committed the same crime can have vastly different sentences. This is only because the AG has the sole discretion and his decision is not open to judicial review unless it can be proved that the decision was based on malice.
Hence, I urge my fellow Singaporeans not allow race/religion issues to surface in our campaign. In as much as there is a disproportionate number of members of the Malay community in prison (including those who have been arrested for drug trafficking), the focus instead should be on poverty as it is those who are disadvantaged that get dragged into the hell holes of the criminal justice system. This is not unique to Singapore, it happens in all other countries. The poor and disadvantaged inevitably form the bulk of the crime statistics. The rich are hardly caught, and even if they are, they seem to escape – this is the common observation of society universally.
Since the execution, many people have asked me, what next, how do we seek justice for Ridzuan and the others who have been executed unlawfully? Which directions should our campaigns take to make real impact, how can the legal community (local and international) contribute? To this, I wish only to state at this stage that the international legal community has been contacted with respect of possible prosecution against the Singapore authorities for the unlawful killings. Briefly:
Another consequence of my active campaigning over the years has lead several community members, action groups and individuals to invite me to join politics. As mentioned in a video I posted, I would like to state for the record that I do not do what I do because I have a political agenda. I DO NOT WISH TO ENTER POLITICS, and it is not my intention to do so. Instead, I would like to do my very best to set up/support two humanitarian causes. The first would be dedicated to the alleviation of poverty in Singapore. Its agenda will be to support high level research commissioned to study the ugly silence on the topic in a society that is otherwise known around the world as a wealthy nation. The other is to set up an entity for like-minded lawyers and advocates who are passionate and dedicated towards the preservation of all aspects of humanitarianism to colloborate.
If you like to support me or just wish to find out more, please do reach out. Thank you.