Human Rights Organizations Urge Singapore To Stop Death Penalty Crush

Several human rights organizations and experts, Amnesty International and the U.N. among them, have demanded that the Singaporean government put an end to the crush of executions carried out this year.

“We call on governments, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Board to increase pressure on Singapore so that international safeguards on the death penalty are respected and drug control policies are rooted in the promotion and protection of human rights,” Amnesty International said. “Singapore’s highly punitive approach does neither.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced Singaporean authorities to take a “break” from executing detainees on death row, 10 people were executed this year, all convicted for drug-related crimes. Four men were hanged in just the first week of August. These are astonishing numbers, considering that countries are increasingly abolishing the death penalty and almost no executions are carried out anywhere for drug-related crimes. The U.N. emphasizes in a statement that the death penalty does not adhere to international human rights, as it violates the right to life and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

This commotion around the topic is in response to the execution of Malay Singaporean Nazeri bin Lajim, who was convicted in 2012 for trafficking 33.39 grams of diamorphine. As he was struggling with severe addiction, most of the substance would be for personal use. The rest of the amount bin Lajim was carrying was far under the 15-gram margin that Singaporean law rules merits a mandatory death sentence.

There is a growing apprehension that the relentless trials are linked to the persecution of minorities, ethnic minorities like Malays are excessively represented in the drug-related death sentences. U.N. experts stated that they were “concerned” that “a disproportionate number of those being sentenced to death for drug-related offences are minority persons and tend to be from economically disadvantaged backgrounds like Mr. Nazeri bin Lajim.”

Tensions are also rising amidst lawyers, journalists, and activists who defend the accused or advocate against the regime. Al Jazeera reports that fewer lawyers have been taking on death row cases, as they are increasingly intimidated and scrutinized. There was no defense lawyer present in at least four of this year’s death penalty cases, forcing the defendants to represent themselves.

On August 4th, 24 men on death row argued a lawsuit against the Attorney-General, alleging that the court’s ability to order costs against defense lawyers prevented them from taking cases, obstructing the men’s access to legal representation and denying them justice. Among these men was convicted drug trafficker Abdul Rahim Shapiee, scheduled to be executed August 5th and appealing for his execution to be postponed. After the death of Nazeri bin Lajim, human rights organizations, activists, and experts from around the world worked night and day to secure a stay of execution for Abdul Rahim Shapiee and co-accused Ong Seow Ping.

At midnight, the verdict went against the accusers. On August 5th, Abdul Rahim Shapiee and Ong Seow Ping were hanged.

Singapore must re-evaluate its policies around mandatory death sentence, especially with regard to drug-related cases, and rethink the implementation of death sentences altogether, to bring the country’s laws into proportion with international human rights laws.