Our Response to the Straits Times’ Thursday Special Report

The issue of the death penalty in Singapore is not one that often receives media attention, and neither is it very much in the public domain. Therefore, we at Second Chances are glad to see a special report on the death penalty published in the Straits Times on 1 March 2012 (‘Fewer criminals sent to the gallows’) to highlight this important issue.

Although it is encouraging to learn that the rate of execution in Singapore has gone down dramatically in recent years, we would question the influence of the death penalty on this trend. We would also like to point out that the death penalty does not cease to be a cruel, archaic, arbitrary and problematic punishment, and the mandatory death penalty even more so.

Not only is there no evidence that the death penalty functions as an effective deterrent to crime, the imposition of the mandatory death penalty also removes the discretion of judges in sentencing. This means that judges are unable to consider the individual circumstances of each case, and are forced to sentence all who are found guilty to death. Add in the possibility of human error, irreversibility of the punishment and potential for wrongful execution, and it becomes impossible for us to justify the use of capital punishment.

As seen by the case of Ismil Kadar, there have been wrongful convictions and death sentences handed down in Singapore. Should we continue to retain the death penalty, it is inevitable that this will occur again, only we may not be in time to save an innocent life.

As the Straits Times has shared five past cases, we would also like to highlight five cases:

Vignes Mourthi

Vignes Mourthi was caught on 20 September 2001. The High Court convicted him of trafficking in not less than 27.65 grams of Heroin and he was sentenced to death under the mandatory death penalty. His defence was that he was transporting incense stones on behalf of a friend.

During the trial, the prosecution produced a handwritten note of a conversation between Vignes and a CNB officer which allegedly took place on the day of his arrest. This note was required to be produced at the Preliminary Inquiry of Vignes’ trial, but the prosecution failed to do so. Despite this, the court admitted the note as evidence.

The note was neither dated nor signed. Vignes insisted that the conversation did not take place.

While Vignes’ case was being investigated, the lead CNB officer Sgt Rajkumar was himself being investigated for alleged rape and corruption. This fact did not come to light until after Vignes was convicted and hanged, even though it could have been used in his defence during the trial.

Despite the unfavourable circumstances of his trial, Vignes’ appeal to the President for clemency was dismissed and he was hanged on 26 September 2003.

During the final appeal hearing, his lawyer M Ravi put this question to the Deputy Public Prosecutor, “Is he still maintaining that an innocent man can be hanged because of procedure?” The then-Chief Justice Yong Pung How replied,  “Yes, the answer is yes.”

Rozman bin Jusoh

Rozman bin Jusoh was arrested on 25 November 1993. He was charged with trafficking in 1040.8g of cannabis.

As investigations went on, evidence surfaced that Rozman was intellectually subnormal. A clinical psychologist who examined him testified that he had an IQ of about 74, which was borderline. Through observations, she came to the conclusion that he could be easily manipulated by others, and might even have been incapable of differentiating right from wrong.

The trial judge Rubin JC observed that:

“It was…clear from the evidence that the CNB agent and the undercover CNB officer were more than mere agents, and had, in fact, undertaken a substantially active role in persuading [Rozman] to sell them drugs… [Rozman] was a person without guile and would not have embarked upon this expedition for a mere $100 if not for his feeble mind which seemed to have been overborne by the CNB agent and the CNB operative… There was a grave doubt raised as to whether he could be criminally responsible to warrant the mandatory death sentence, in light of his intellectual disability and the real possibility of being manipulated.”

The judge then felt that it would have been “unsafe for the court to proceed to convict him on the charge of trafficking”, and thus convicted Rozman for the lesser offence of possession. Rozman was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.

Dissatisfied, the prosecution appealed the verdict. The Court of Appeal, consisting of Chief Justice Yong Pung How and Justices of Appeal M. Karthigesu and L.P. Thean, felt that Rozman’s subnormal intellect was not sufficient defence to negate his intent of trafficking, and could only be taken in account to mitigate the sentence. However, since the sentence was mandatory, the Court of Appeal was unable to take any mitigating circumstances into account, and therefore convicted Rozman of trafficking.

Rozman bin Jusoh was hanged on 12 April 1996.

Amara Tochi

A passionate footballer, Tochi travelled from his home country of Nigeria to Pakistan, hoping to get from there to Dubai, where he would try to play for football clubs. However, he had been misinformed about the travel routes and had to seek refuge at the St Andrew’s Church in Islamabad.

While there, he met a man named Mr Smith, who assisted him while he was in Pakistan. Mr Smith then asked Tochi for a favour – he wanted Tochi to deliver medicine to a friend in Singapore. Tochi claimed that Mr Smith told him that he would be delivering African herbs.

On arrival in Changi Airport, Tochi had to spend over 24 hours in the transit area, waiting for Okeke Nelson Malachy, whose flight from Indonesia had been delayed. Authorities got suspicious and called the police when Tochi tried to check into the transit hotel. When the police arrived, Tochi was found in possession of 100 capsules of diamorphine, with a total weight of 727.02g.

However, Tochi insisted that he was carrying African health supplements. To illustrate this, he even swallowed a capsule, which unknown to him, contained a potentially lethal dose of diamorphine. The authorities had to take him to a local hospital to flush the capsule out of his system.

During the trial, Tochi’s defence lawyers argued that Tochi did not know he had been carrying heroin. In his writtten judgement, the trial judge Kan Ting Chiu J stated,

“There was no direct evidence that [Amara Tochi] knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out of his own.”

However, the judge then went on to say that “Tochi should have known and therefore he is guilty.” Tochi was found guilty of possession for the purpose of trafficking and sentenced to death.

Both Tochi and Malachy were executed on 26 January 2007.

Navarat Maykha

Navarat Maykha, a 32-year-old Thai national and mother of two, was found guilty of trafficking 3.182 kg of morphine.

Navarat had met “Sunny”, whom she believed was Nigerian, during her work as a receptionist in 1992. They bumped into each other again in 1993, and Sunny invited her for a cup of tea. During the meet-up, Sunny asked Navarat if she would agree to help him deliver a bag of clothes to his friend in Singapore and to purchase a few items (a Nikon or Canon camera with zoom lens, a Panasonic telephone with recording facilities and a perfume called `Eternity’). In return, he would give Navarat US$2000 to buy all the items and that Navarat could keep the change.

Navarat considered the proposal for a few days before agreeing to Sunny’s proposal. She calculated that she could earn about 5000 baht from the trip, which she could use to pay her son’s medical bills and send some money to her mother.

The morning before her flight, Sunny met up with Navarat to pass her a leather bag filled with clothes. The inner lining of her “leather bag” which was passed to her by Sunny was found to contain 3.182kg of morphine.

Navarat Maykha was hanged on 22 September 1995.

Poon Yuen Chung

Hong Kong national Poon Yuen-chung was hanged on 21 April 1995.

Poon, together with her friend Lam Hoi-Ka, had been arrested Changi Airport on 16 July 1991 when heroin was found in a secret compartment of their suitcases. Poon was only 18 years and 10 months old, while Lam was 17 years and 6 months old.

While in Bangkok on holiday, the girls had befriended a Chinese couple, Mr and Mrs Go, who had taken them out sightseeing. Mr and Mrs Go later bought them new suitcases as replacements for their old ones. Tired from the day’s activities, the girls did not think much of this, and did not protest when Mrs Go offered to help pack their cases for them.

3.6kg of morphine was found in Poon’s bag, while 3,457.1g of morphine was found in Lam’s. Both girls denied any knowledge.

As she was over 18, Poon was handed the Mandatory Death Penalty. Being underaged, Lam was ordered to be detained at the President’s pleasure.

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These five cases contain many aspects that are problematic and worrying, as they might have led to the wrongful taking of precious lives. They also highlight the varying situations that can lead to lost lives due to moments of carelessness or ignorance.

At the time of writing, Second Chances knows of five inmates on death row, hoping to be granted clemency so that they may be allowed to live. Below are links to their stories:

Yong Vui Kong

Cheong Chun Yin

Roslan bin Bakar

Ramalingam Ravinthran

Nagaenthran s/o Dharmalingam

It is positive that the Straits Times has seen fit to give the death penalty issue an airing, and to bring it into the public’s consciousness. We urge all Singaporeans to seize the opportunity to educate themselves more on issues surrounding the death penalty, the mandatory death penalty and its applications in Singapore, so as to be able to foster more well-informed, mature debates on this topic.

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