"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

UN calls on the Singapore Government to halt the execution of Kho Jabing

The following is a press release by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' Regional Office for South-East Asia:

We urgently call on the Singapore Government to halt the execution of Malaysian national Kho Jabing, who is due to be hanged on Friday.
Kho, 31, has endured years of immense suffering on death row as his sentence has been changed several times.
Kho was sentenced to death in 2010 for murder. At the time, a mandatory death penalty applied to all cases of murder in Singapore. In 2012, Singapore amended legislation regarding the mandatory use of the death penalty and his sentence was changed to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane. However, Kho's death sentence was reinstated in January 2015 by the Court of Appeal. In November 2015, Kho was granted a temporary stay of execution less than 24 hours before he was due to be hanged. On 5 April, his death sentence was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Despite several appeals by the UN Human Rights Office and civil society groups, Singapore said Kho would be hanged on 20 May 2016. During Singapore's human rights review in Geneva in January, several states called on the Government to abolish the death penalty. Singapore has yet to respond to the recommendations.
We call on the Singapore Government to immediately take steps to establish a moratorium on the death penalty as part of a process toward the full abolishment of capital punishment.
More than 160 Members States of the United Nations with a variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds, have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it. In South-East Asia, only Cambodia, Timor-Leste and the Philippines have fully abolished the death penalty.  For more information on the death penalty in South-East Asia, view our publication entitled “Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Lessons in South-East Asia”.

Source: The Independent, May 18, 2016


Lawyers plead for Kho Jabing's life in last-ditch effort

In a last-ditch effort to save the life of the death row inmate Kho Jabing, the 3 bar associations of Malaysia have submitted a letter pleading for clemency to Singapore President Tony Tan.

In the letter, the Advocates Association of Sarawak, the Sabah Law Association, and the Malaysian Bar asked for Kho's death sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.

They argued that the decision on whether Kho should live or die should not depend on the collective decision of a majority of judges, and pointed out that some of the Singaporean judges that have presided over the case have expressed doubt on whether Kho intended to kill.

"The fact that learned judges of Singapore have expressed doubts that Kho Jabing exhibited sufficient mens rea or intention to commit the crime of murder should, in and of itself, give rise to concerns whether Kho Jabing should be made to pay the ultimate price for his crime and be sentenced to hang.

"If there is any doubt at all about his level of intention, and there genuinely is, that doubt must be resolved in Kho Jabing's favour," says the letter signed by the presidents of the three associations, Leonard Shim, Brenndon Soh, and Steven Thiru.

"The death penalty is an irreversible punishment. Once taken, Kho Jabing's life cannot be returned to him or his family," the letter cautioned.

The letter was handed to the Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia Vanu Gopala Menon today by Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairperson Andrew Khoo, on behalf of the three associations.

Speaking to reporters outside the Singapore High Commission building in Kuala Lumpur later, Khoo said the high commissioner has agreed to relay the contents of the letter to the Singaporean government.

Kho, 31, is a Malaysian citizen from Sarawak who is now being held at Changi Prison, Singapore.

He was convicted of murder in 2010 and was given the mandatory death sentence, but was re-sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane when the Singaporean government reviewed its death penalty laws in 2012.

'Wrong in principle'

On Jan 14 last year, however, the Singaporean Court of Appeal reportedly reimposed the death penalty in a unanimous decision, following an appeal by the prosecution.

He is slated to hang on Friday, which is also reportedly the birthday of one of his 2 sisters.

Meanwhile, lawyer Khoo told reporters that the Malaysian Bar is opposed to mandatory sentencing - be it a jail or a death sentence - and the death sentence itself.

He said mandatory sentencing takes away the discretion of judges to decide what should be the appropriate punishment for the cases they presided, and this appears to be creeping into Malaysia's own statute books.

"It is wrong in principle. After all, we train our judges and we rely on their experience to mete justice, and justice cannot be served by mandatory sentencing," he said.

As for death sentencing, Khoo said it is wrong to respond to a killing by also taking the killer's life, which in essence lowers a society to the offender's standards.

He said the Malaysian government has already conceded that the mandatory death penalty does not deter crime, and hopes it would expedite the proposals for its repeal.

"Mandatory death sentences are on their way out; it is merely a question of when. They (the government) has made certain public commitments or public statements about reviewing it, and we urge the government to really expedite and finalise their proposals so that they can be presented to Parliament as soon as possible, so that we can end this idea of mandatory death sentences.

"We also hope they will realise that mandatory sentencing in itself is also wrong in principle," he said.

Source: malaysiakini.com, May 18, 2016


With Malaysian to hang in Singapore, Bar says death penalty not answer to crime

Mandatory death sentences are ineffective deterrents to crime, a representative of the Malaysian Bar argued today ahead of a Sarawakian's capital punishment in Singapore on Friday.

Commenting on the case of Kho Jabing who will be hanged on Friday, the Bar Council's Human Rights Committee chairman Andrew Khoo said death sentences would put society on the same level as convicted killers.

"Justice cannot be served by mandatory sentencing. Secondly, you don't respond to someone who killed by also killing that person," Khoo told reporters today after submitting a clemency appeal for Jabing, to Singapore president Dr Tony Tan via the Singapore High Commission here.

Khoo was representing the Malaysian Bar as well as the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Association, who signed the appeal.

In the appeal, the legal bodies pleaded with Tan to review Jabing's sentence, pointing out that judges were divided over the death penalty in his case.

"The fact that learned judges of Singapore have expressed doubts that Kho Jabing exhibited sufficient mens rea or intention to commit the crime of murder, should, in and of itself, give rise to concerns whether Kho Jabing should be made to pay the ultimate price for his crime and be sentenced to hang," the joint appeal letter read.

Jabing was convicted of killing a Chinese construction worker in 2008 and sentenced to death in the island state.

He was previously scheduled to be executed on November 6 last year but won a temporary reprieve pending a court appeal.

Singapore authorities have informed the family that the execution date has been fixed for Friday morning.

Source: themalaymailonline.com, May 18, 2016


I discovered the truth about Singapore's 'war on drugs'. Now I campaign against the death penalty

Yong Vui Kong was my 1st encounter with the death penalty in Singapore. I was 21 years old, and so was he. But we couldn't be further apart when I sat in the public gallery of the courtroom and he in the dock, behind a glass pane. At that age I was considered by many older people as young, idealistic, naive, prone to mistakes and immaturity. Yet the Singaporean criminal justice system was expecting Yong Vui Kong to die for a mistake he'd made when he was just 19 years old.

Born to a poor family in the east Malaysian state of Sabah, Vui Kong was arrested in 2007 with 47.27 grams of heroin. Under Singaporean law, 15 grams and above is enough to attract the mandatory death penalty. Seeing his youth, the trial judge had asked the prosecution to consider reducing the charge, so he wouldn't have to face the gallows.

The prosecution refused.

This is the reality of the 'war on drugs' in Singapore. An uncompromising attitude is sold as being 'tough on crime', and largely bought by the populace as the secret sauce to keeping Singapore the safe, relatively low-crime city it is.

An uncompromising attitude is sold as being 'tough on crime'.

"When we talk about death penalty for drug traffickers, what are we talking about? The person brings across heroin enough to feed 950 people for one week, that person faces death penalty. People look at the drug traffickers that we impose a death penalty on. Very little of the literature focuses on the death penalties that drug traffickers impose on society," said law and home affairs minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam at a question and answer session with university students in March.

This mentality makes capital punishment look like a logical trade-off; we sacrifice the lives of a number of nasty people for the good of hundreds or thousands. It's taught to Singaporean children from a young age, with little critique or question.

Yong Vui Kong
Yong Vui Kong
By the time I entered the picture in 2010, Vui Kong's case had been taken over by human rights lawyer M. Ravi, who had won him a stay of execution and was mounting a challenge to the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty (which would later fail). Outside the courtroom, the long-running Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) was doing its best to work within the limits of Singapore's restrictions on advocacy, activism and protest to raise awareness of his case. By the end of that year, 2 18-year-old students and I would set up We Believe in Second Chances, a campaign for Vui Kong meant to emphasise his youth through ours.

We had originally intended for Second Chances to just be a campaign for Vui Kong. But his story led to a deeper examination of capital punishment, criminal justice and drug policy, and we quickly realised that the issue went far, far beyond one young Sabahan.

We've since worked, or are working, with multiple families of death row inmates - we aren't able to get permission from the prison to visit the inmates themselves. Some of these capital cases are for murder, but the vast majority were convicted of drug trafficking.

Proponents of the 'war on drugs' would have you imagine that the drug traffickers who are caught and put to death are murderers in their own right: evil, greedy criminals who care little for anyone or anything apart from enriching themselves.

If these cold-blooded hoodlums are getting caught and sent to death row, we're not seeing them. The people we see are scared, bewildered parents, siblings and partners, representing similarly scared and bewildered inmates desperate for a chance, any chance, to avoid a date with the long drop. They are often from ethnic minority groups, or low-income, less-educated households. Many of the families are broken or dysfunctional in some way: estranged parents and abusive environments.

Society might prefer to imagine that people offend because they are inherently malicious, but we more often than not see how different socio-economic circumstances create communities or individuals more vulnerable to being both offenders and victims.

There is Muhammad Rizuan, who languishes on death row because the prosecution chose not to grant him a "certificate of cooperation", a prerequisite before one can avoid the death penalty. In his case, we see people sent to the gallows not just for their crime, but for their subsequent lack of usefulness to the authorities. Yet how useful could a low-level courier really be?

There is Roslan bin Bakar, whose conviction relied more on testimony than hard evidence, showing that there are far more problems with the death penalty than its failure to deal with drug offences.

And then there is Yong Vui Kong himself, a boy from a plantation in east Malaysia whose journey to prison was paved with poverty, neglect, abuse and a dearth of opportunities beyond gang membership. (Fortunately for Vui Kong, changes in the law allowed his death sentence to be changed to life imprisonment with caning.)

It is unlikely that being 'tough on crime' would have saved any of these men from their current predicaments. There is even less evidence that being tough on these men, as part of Singapore's 'war on drugs', will prevent any others from being recruited into drug syndicates, or abusing drugs themselves. As long as there are poor, under-served and vulnerable communities, drug lords will enjoy a steady supply of hapless young men and women to use as mules. And as long as we continue to execute these mules, we are shifting focus and resources away from the greater task of education, advocacy, rehabilitation and social justice that is truly important in addressing the problem.

Source: opendemocracy.net, Kirsten Han, May 18, 2016. This article was published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

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