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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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Dishing out death and drugs

I read the news reports on the parliamentary debate on the death sentence with mixed feelings – which I still can’t quite pin down. I am not against the death sentence for heinous crimes. In fact, I even think paedophiles should be castrated…but that’s a different story.

I think it has to do with who gets to decide who should swing or not. That’s such a heavy burden, whether it’s placed on a judge or on the prosecution. I used to think we should just make the rule books clear, so everyone knows where’s the line that society has agreed to draw.

The rules on who hangs for murder have been tightened. So judges can exercise some discretion over murder cases, where there is no intent to kill. You know, I wonder how many “murderers’’ have been hanged in the past before this change… It will be good to see how many of the six murderers now on death row will be saved by the change.

The prosecution has bigger powers (or a bigger burden). It will decide if drug runners really, really gave good information that will help break syndicates before taking the death penalty off them. So the death penalty is a policy instrument. It is not punishment for the crime but punishment if the drug runner can’t do enough to help prevent another crime. I’m uncomfortable because it’s become a utility tool. I hope when a case like this come ups, the public will be able to see HOW the prosecution exercised its discretion. How substantive must the drug runner’s assistance be to take the noose off him?

We are assured that the prosecution will be very tough on this. The bar will be set high so that the zero tolerance for drugs policy will still hold. For all you know, maybe no one will be off the hook. Or maybe everyone will start spilling the beans. Question: I know other countries have such discretion built into their legal systems, but are there closer parallels that we can examine? Did it lead to a fall in drug trafficking/consumption?

So what else are we doing to tackle the drug scourge. I wish there was more reporting on the Misuse of Drugs amendment Bill. I gather that drug parties will be banned (I’m surprised…always thought they were..) and that there will be heavier penalties for those who target the young and vulnerable. What are they? What’s “young and vulnerable’’ and what proportion of the drug population do they make up?

Another thing I found puzzling: How the G doesn’t want to have a Malay committee targeting Malay drug addicts, even though they form half the offenders. Why not? If the drug problem is such that we considered changes to the death penalty, what’s the harm of having a Malay committee to tackle the community’s problem? It can make better use of language and religion in its outreach, even co-ordinate programmes among the mosques and Malay groups. In fact, wasn’t there some such committee in the past?

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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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