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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Dealing with death

I was surfing the Net when the news broke in Singapore about changes to the death penalty regime. I went “Oh wow! My country is making changes to the death penalty!”. The German lady in front of me at Phnom Penh press centre looked up and said: “You mean, you still have the death sentence?”. I said yes, we do – and still will, except that we will be more “stringent” about who we hang. She didn’t hear me. “You have the death sentence? In this day and age?”

It’s not who we hang, or for what crime, but that we still do, was what pertubed her. I am not at all perturbed. If you intentionally take a life, it’s fine by me that the State intentionally takes yours. I’m sure there are plenty of others who disagree with me, and regard the taking of a life by the State as a fundamental wrong.

I am glad though that the judges now have some leeway to decide between death and jail. Still, I am a little confused from reading newspaper reports in Today. (The SPH people STILL haven’t responded to my request a week ago for a new password…)  So if you are a drug courier, you get off the gallows if you co-operate with the law or can prove you are a pawn or have the brain of a prawn? What happened to the drug limit? As the G itself said, syndicates make sure the amounts trafficked are just under the legal limit to escape death. And this is a restraint on their activities. Does that limit still hold? Does it mean that a courier can now bring in as much drugs as he wants and MIGHT have a chance of escaping the noose?

I don’t know enough about the details. But I do know this – noises about the death penalty for drug couriers usually come about when the courier is a foreigner. There’s not as much noise, or even no noise, when the courier is Singaporean. I hope the changes aren’t aimed at placating foreign sentiments on the death penalty and getting out of the international spotlight whenever a foreigner gets caught. That, probably, would be its effect – reduced attention by human rights groups. As a society however, we must be clear about agreeing with the rationale for the change: Why put the ultimate penalty on the small fry when it’s the big fish who should be caught? And when the big fish is in the net, let’s be clear that he should be fried – or hanged. No ifs and buts.

As for the mandatory death penalty for murder, this layman has always thought that a charge for murder must include proving intent to kill. If not, the charge would be reduced to manslaughter which does not mean automatic death.

I suppose the lawyers for those on death row – 28 for drugs and seven for murder – will be terribly busy. I wonder what the families of these 35 people are feeling, saying. I wonder if they can rustle up the money for a second round at the courts to get their loved ones of the hook. I wonder how long those 35 have been languishing on death row and the feelings that will now consume them….What an emtional roller-coaster ride they must be on.

By the way, while I am on this subject, I was thinking the timing of the annoucement was really quite… something. It was the Law Minister who announced it, and he is also the Foreign Minister who will be making his way here to see the draft of the Asean Human Rights declaration.


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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