I am directed to refer to the petition for clemency for Kho Jabing and to inform you that the President, after due consideration of the petition and on the advice of the Cabinet, has decided that the sentence of death should stand.
— — —
Principal Private Secretary
To the President
This is how a clemency petition is rejected. This is how a family, so fearful yet hopeful, is told that their loved one is going to die.
Jumai Kho folded the letter carefully and slid it back into its envelope. “When can we see Jabing?” she asked in Malay.
The news hit us like a ton of bricks. We’d been waiting for months, through SG50 celebrations to the hectic days of the general election to the post-Polling Day lull. And although we had strong suspicions of what the answer would be, the confirmation came as a shock.
On 22 October we found out that Kho Jabing’s clemency appeal had been rejected. President Tony Tan, acting on the advice of the Cabinet, would be continuing his predecessor’s practice of not granting any pardons to any death row inmate. (The last clemency granted was in 1998.)
Jabing, now 31, was first sentenced to death in 2010 under the mandatory death penalty after a 2008 robbery and assault of construction Cao Ruyin resulted in Cao’s death. Amendments to the mandatory death penalty allowed his death sentence to be set aside in favour of life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane. But the prosecution appealed, and the Court of Appeal bench sentenced him, once again, to death. The decision was not unanimous: three judges decided that the death penalty was appropriate, two disagreed.
In pushing Singapore to take baby steps away from the death penalty, one aspect of the criminal justice system in need of reform could be the clemency process, said anti-capital punishment campaigner M Ravi at a film screening and discussion organised for the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Saturday.
In Singapore, pardons are granted by the President, who is the elected head of state of the country. However the court ruled in 2011 that the President has to act on the advice of the Cabinet when it comes to clemency cases, effectively handing the power to the government that has not only kept capital punishment on the books, but actively defended its continued use.
M Ravi, a human rights lawyer whose licence to practise is currently suspended, pointed out that former president S R Nathan had not granted any clemencies during his two six-year terms as head-of-state. In fact, since Singapore’s independence in 1965, less than ten clemencies have been granted. The last clemency was granted by Ong Teng Cheong in 1998.
This October 10th, the Singapore Working Group on the Death Penalty is commemorating the 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty in solidarity with all individuals and groups working on the abolition of capital punishment.
Singapore commendably amended its death penalty regime in 2013, but the amendments did not go far enough in abolishing the mandatory aspect of the punishment. It is a fact that the mandatory death penalty still remains and will continue to be applied unless certain conditions are met. Singapore therefore retains its position of having the death penalty for drug smuggling or trafficking.
It was a clinical, bureaucratic process. Police officers collected identity cards and passports, taking down our details, down to home addresses and phone numbers. Lenduk and Jumai hovered behind Priscilla – a co-founder of the anti-death penalty group We Believe in Second Chances – as she spoke with the officers stationed outside the Istana, uncertain as to what to do.