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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign: Gather passions and determination to reform the criminal justice system

Screenshot from "Apprentice", a film by Boo Junfeng (2016)
Screenshot from "Apprentice", a film by Boo Junfeng (2016)
The recent hanging of Kho Jabing despite exhausting all legal avenues was a dampener. There are insurmountable obstacles staring down at those amongst us who take up the dogged fight of standing up for the repeal of the death penalty in Singapore.

The amendments to the Penal Code in 2013 following the celebrated judgement of Yong Vui Kong which spared him from the gallows, allowing judges greater discretion in meting out alternative punishments rather than being compelled to sentence the accused to death by hanging according to the mandatory death penalty. This is a start and an inch closer towards eventual repeal of the death penalty. But it is also equally pertinent to note that the move towards greater discretionary sentencing did not come about by chance nor handed to us on a silver platter. It was won and fought for by activists, lawyers, idealists and most importantly, us Singaporeans. The collective action of civil society groups have helped raise awareness amongst the public about the injustices of the death penalty and compelled the administration to take heed of the compelling arguments against the mandatory death penalty.

The work put in by civil society too, has led to the release of annual statistics of execution after it was stated in civil society groups' submissions to United Nation's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore in 2010 that there was a lack of transparency in the number of executions carried out. However, there is still much more work to be done. Other information surrounding the death penalty in Singapore, such as demographics of the inmates on death row and identities of inmates who face imminent executions, continues to be shrouded in secrecy.

It goes without saying that more should and can be done to pressure the authorities into greater transparency of such information. It cannot be that our government continues to justify the death penalty by regurgitating often-mentioned arguments that it 'deters crime'. We are all aware of the mendacity of the arguments that continue to be cited by the government in favour of retaining the death penalty, but what should stir our consciences more is the incomprehensible lack of public debate and deliberation on the death penalty. It says a lot when our citizenry are not active stakeholders in an issue as complex as the death penalty compared to foreign NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Such issues have far reaching implications on the kind of values we want to promote, justice and security. It is high time that we the people begin to become that spark- to illuminate and create a backdrop of enlightened, passionate deliberation and consultation on our views of the death penalty. Such ground-up efforts will not only serve as a clear, unequivocal message to the authorities on the general public's stance on such issues, but also help strengthen our sense of ownership, rights and understanding of natural justice.

Where we have met with adversity and vilification, let us instead show fortitude and magnanimity. Let us come together to ensure that we can build a a system that we can all be proud of, where natural justice prevails. There goes a proverbial saying that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, travel together. The road ahead may be paved with obstacles, but if we rally together and gather our fierce passions and determination to reform the criminal justice system, we will overcome.

Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) was formed in 2005 by a group of us. We are going to witness a spate of executions in the coming months. It's going to be a very trying period.We intend to organize training and advocacy workshop and other activities to equip new anti death penalty advocates with local and international advocacy.

Source: theonlinecitizen.com, June 14, 2016

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