"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, November 23, 2016

Questions over Execution and Mishandled Cremation in Singapore

The family of a man executed in Singapore last week is dismayed at the handling of his funeral service and says he has been cremated against their wishes.

Chijioke Stephen Obioha, 35, convicted of drug trafficking in 2007, was hanged on Friday morning after nearly a decade behind bars.

His legal team, having only heard about the planned execution date a week prior from Amnesty International, made one final bid to save his life but it was dismissed by the court last Thursday evening.

M. Ravi, a non-practicing lawyer in Singapore and part of Obioha’s legal team, says when lawyers contacted Singapore’s Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) after the execution, they were initially told the body would be released by the prison service on Saturday morning and a funeral service for Obioha was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Obioha’s family wanted his body to be buried, in adherence to their religious practice and they had asked Ravi to attend the service, he says. But the RCPM, despite the initial assurances, did not inform the legal team of the details in advance. He later discovered via a website that Obioha’s cremation had been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Obioha’s family, grieving his death, is “very upset” that his body was not treated in-line with their burial rites.

“The family is shocked, heartbroken and distressed,” Ravi told The News Lens International.

“Under the Nigerian Christian funeral rights, they don’t do cremations, they only do burials,” he says. The family is now concerned about others in their local community finding out about Obioha’s internment.

Cruel and unusual punishment


Obioha was imprisoned in Singapore after his arrest in 2007. He was charged with trafficking 2.6 kilograms of cannabis. In Singapore, 500 grams triggers the automatic presumption of drug trafficking. He was also reported to have been found with keys to a room containing other prohibited substances. In November 2008, he was sentenced to death under Singapore’s mandatory death penalty law. An appeal was rejected by the courts in 2010. Amendments to the mandatory death penalty regime, which came into force in 2013, meant Obioha was eligible to apply for re-sentencing. However, his supporters say he refused to apply because he insisted he was innocent and saw applying for re-sentencing as an admission of guilt.

A petition for clemency was rejected in 2015 and his execution set for May that year. One day prior to the execution date, Obioha applied for re-sentencing and was granted a stay of execution. After receiving legal advice that he would be unlikely to qualify as a drug courier – this could potentially have led to the death penalty decision being changed – he later withdrew the application.

In the days prior to his execution, the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign and other human rights groups frantically lobbied the Singapore government to halt the execution. Amnesty International, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch were among those to release statements calling for the execution to be stayed.

In court on Thursday, his legal team argued that Obioha’s case – possibly the longest delay of an execution in Singapore’s history – amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. As such, the organization said the execution would be “clearly unlawful under international law and arguably under Singapore law.”

The court countered that the delay in execution had mostly been brought upon by Obioha’s own appeals, Ravi says. And despite the fact that lawyers had only been notified of the looming execution days before, in dismissing the appeal, the court “repeatedly” asked Obioha’s legal team why the appeal had been made so late and suggested the eleventh-hour proceedings were an “abuse of due process.”

He adds that even if the court had found Obioha had been subject to “cruel and unusual punishment,” it is not prohibited by Singapore’s constitution.

“So, even if we succeed [in arguing this defense], we would still fail,” Ravi says. “I think it is outrageous.”

According to local media reports, a spokesperson for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari described the execution as “heartbreaking” but said there was little the country could do other than lobby Singaporean officials for clemency. The spokesperson appealed to Nigerians to avoid drug trafficking.

Next challenge


Human rights lawyers in Singapore are now waiting on the outcome of a constitutional challenge to the death sentences of four men for drug charges – whom Ravi says may be next scheduled for execution.

The four men are: Prabagaran Srivijayan, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, Muhammad Ridzuan Bin Mohd Ali and Jeefrey Bin Jamil.

While Ravi believes the appeal has a chance to be “highly significant” – as it challenges core constitutional issues with capital punishment – he is cognizant that given Singapore’s rigid approach to drug crimes, the case is “an uphill task.”

As two of the four men are Malaysian, the defense will also involve lobbying in Malaysia, and lawyers are currently drafting a memo to the Malaysian parliament.

Campaigners criticized


A Malaysian man, also convicted of drug trafficking, was executed on the same day as Obioha. Ravi says lawyers had little knowledge of his case – a situation endemic of the opaqueness shrouding the use of capital punishment in Singapore.

According to Amnesty International, more than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 141 are abolitionist in law or practice. As of the end of 2015, at least 26 people remained on death row in Singapore. The use of capital punishment in Singapore for drug related offenses is in breach of international law, which states the death penalty can only be used for a country’s “most serious crime.”

Still, the work by groups like Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign does not receive widespread support in Singapore.

Singapore-based journalist and human rights campaigner Kirsten Han wrote last week that a claim is “consistently” made against abolitionists around that, “we campaign against the death penalty because we victimize the executed while caring not a jot for their victims.”

In response to the criticism, Han writes, “What we are saying is that the death penalty is not helping society address crime in a more holistic ways, and that instead of alleviating the problems of victims and their families, capital punishment adds additional groups of victims (the inmate and their families) rather than actually addressing problems like violent crime and the drug trade.”

Han also notes that those on death row for drug offenses tend to be from ethnic minority groups, families with low incomes, broken families or have less education.

“I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ve never seen a single drug lord/mafia boss, just bewildered, scared families representing bewildered, scared inmates,” she says.

Source: The New Lens, November 21, 2016


Drug trafficker who was hanged given every chance to fight death sentence: Appeal Court


Convicted drug trafficker Chijioke Stephen Obioha, who was hanged last Friday, was given every chance to fight his death sentence, including applying for re-sentencing, explained the Court of Appeal in judgement grounds released on Tuesday (Nov 22).

Instead, the Nigerian decided not to be re-sentenced, and launched an 11-hour bid last week to stay the execution by arguing that that the 8 years he spent on death row amounted to cruel and inhuman punishment.

Chijioke Stephen Obioha
Chijioke Stephen Obioha
Highlighting that this latest argument could have been brought up at earlier hearings over the last year, the Appeal Court said the 11th-hour bid's only purpose was to prevent the carrying out of his sentence, and amounted to an abuse of process.

Chijioke, 38, was found guilty and sentenced to death on Dec 30, 2008 for trafficking in 2,604.56g of cannabis here. His appeal was dismissed in 2010. When the review of the mandatory death penalty was conducted between 2011 to 2013, Chijioke was given a stay of execution. For 2 years after, he was given a chance to be re-sentenced under the new regime which gives judges the discretion not to impose the death penalty.

He repeatedly refused to do until a sudden U-turn in May 2015, after he lost a last-minute bid to overthrow his conviction. After several hearings his re-sentencing, he abruptly withdrew his application in August this year.

On Oct 12, he was informed that his stay of execution would be lifted on Oct 24, and that he had till Oct 21 to show there was a good reason not to. Instead, he filed his latest claim on Nov 16.

Wrote Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, who sat in the Appeal Court alongside Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng: "A moment's reflection will reveal that, quite apart from there not being any cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, the applicant has been guilty of an abue of process, as we have already stated."

Source: straitstimes.com, November 22, 2016

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