Q&As: Kirsten Han, anti-death penalty advocate in Singapore

In the third of the DPRU's (Death Penalty Research Unit, University of Oxford, Faculty of Law) series of Q&As with death penalty experts from around the world, Kirsten Han, an anti-death penalty advocate in Singapore, tells DPRU Research Officer Jocelyn Hutton about her current work and about her involvement in the case of the recently executed Nagaenthran Dharmalingam . Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you do in relation to the death penalty? A lot of my contribution to the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Singapore has to do with storytelling, since that fits with the skills that I have as a writer and journalist, and because abolitionist perspectives, or any in-depth coverage of capital punishment, are missing from the local government-controlled mainstream media. I write about death row prisoners and the experiences of their families, try to humanise this issue. For many Singaporeans, it’s so distant and so abstract that it’s very easy to dismiss; so

Singapore | Apex court rejects drug trafficker's claim heroin was for own use, upholds death sentence

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (May 11) upheld the death sentenced handed down to a 57-year-old man for heroin trafficking, rejecting his defence that the drugs were meant for his personal use.

In a written judgment, the three-judge court said A. Steven Paul Raj had failed to provide credible evidence to support his claim that he was heavily consuming 16g to 24g of heroin a day.

The sheer number of weighing scales and empty resealable bags found in Steven's flat further undermined his consumption defence, said the court.

The court was also not convinced by Steven's explanation that he had purchased double his usual order of heroin because his drug supplier warned him of possible supply disruptions during the Deepavali festive period.

Steven, an odd-job labourer, was arrested on his way home in the wee hours of Oct 24, 2017 after collecting two packets of a powdery substance, weighing a total of 901.5g, from his drug supplier at Boon Keng MRT station.

The substance was analysed and found to contain at least 35.85g of pure heroin.

A large assortment of empty resealable bags and four digital weighing scales were among items found in his flat.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, anyone who is proved to be in possession of more than 2g of heroin is presumed to be trafficking the drug, and the burden is on the accused to rebut the presumption.

The law provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin trafficked is more than 15g.

Steven contended that the drugs were for his personal consumption, and claimed to be a heavy user of heroin, smoking two to three packets of 8g per day.

Sometimes, he would give a packet to his friends as part of reciprocal arrangements to help each other, he said.

In August last year, after a trial that began in 2019, the High Court rejected this defence, convicted him of drug trafficking, and imposed the mandatory death penalty.

Steven appealed.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court's finding that Steven had failed to establish his claimed rate of heroin consumption.

In its judgment, the apex court noted that the key pillar of a consumption defence is the accused's rate of consumption.

Other factors, such as the accused's financial means to support his drug habit, how he came to be in possession of the drugs, and his possession of drug trafficking paraphernalia, are secondary.

"Thus, without credible and consistent evidence to establish his claimed rate of consumption on a balance of probabilities, an accused person who seeks to rely on the consumption defence will generally face insuperable difficulties," said the court.

The court said Steven's claimed consumption rate was undermined by the evidence given by the doctors who examined him at different points.

He told two doctors in October 2017 that he consumed 4g of heroin a day, but said in a statement that month that he smoked two to three 8g packets every day.

He told another doctor in November 2017 that he consumed one 8g packet of heroin daily.

Source: straitstimes.com, Selina Lum, May 12, 2022

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