Singapore is sometimes known as the modern country stuck in time and most of the time, it is thanks to Section 316 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states –
“Where any person is sentenced to death, the sentence must direct that he must be hanged by the neck until he is dead but shall not state the place where nor the time when the sentence is to be carried out.”
The death penalty is a very serious issue in modern Singapore and it was very difficult for me to come to a personal conclusion until in early July when I read a news article about Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announcing a conditional easing of the notorious Mandatory Death Penalty (MDP). It was stated that the court would soon have the discretion to sentence some people convicted of drug-related and murder offenses to a lighter penalty of life-imprisonment with caning.
However, this had to be met with 2 specific and clearly-defined conditions:
- the trafficker only played the role of courier and was not involved in any other part of the distribution process.
- the courier cooperates with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in its investigation and substantially assists in dismantling the syndicates or has a mental disability that prevents the accused from appreciating the gravity of his crime.
Law and Foreign Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam also added that certain types of homicide cases will no longer result in the mandatory death penalty.
This is an interesting prospect. Normally, something like this would be a 2-sided debate.
Death or no death. Rope or no rope.
I looked back at some major Singaporean cases and realised how useful this new policy is and how it could actually save lives in time to come. Here are 3 ‘Uniquely Singaporean’ case studies to make some simple comparisons –
- Van Tuong Nguyen – One of the most high-profile cases of drug-trafficking in Singapore, Vietnamese Australian, Nguyen was discovered of smuggling heroin out of Singapore when he triggered a metal detector at the airport. Upon the official’s discovery of a pack of heroin strapped onto his body, he promptly informed them about a second package in his luggage. Unfortunately, he was still sentenced to death on 20 March 2004 and was hanged at Changi Prison on 2nd December 2005, not before holding his mother’s hands for the last time. Nguyen pleaded guilty and even cooperated with the authorities in assisting with the discovery of the second pack of heroin. Though he was hanged, with the recent changes in the Misuse of Drugs Act, Nguyen might not be sentenced to the mandatory death penalty, and might have received the lighter life-imprisonment sentence instead if the crime was committed today.
- Took Leng How – Famous for the kidnap and murder of Huang Na in October 2004, when she was first reported missing, Took as apprehended with his 14 day trial began on 11 July 2005 where his psychiatrist R. Nagulendran argued that Took was a schizophrenic as he was often found smiling to himself and talking to “spirits”. Eventually, he was also hanged for his crimes in November 2006, but given the new laws, Took’s appeal for mental instability would have been further explored, which could have resulted in an entirely different verdict.
- Leong Siew Chor – Lastly, the man who was charged for the infamous Kallang Body Parts murder, which involved the murder of a Chinese National working in Singapore, Liu Hong Mei. She was murdered by Leong, had her body chopped up into 7 pieces over a span of 3 hours where they were subsequently dumped at the Kallang River, Singapore River, rubbish bins along Ubi Road and Ang Mo Kio MRT Station. During legal proceedings, it was deduced that the murder occured due to a theft of $2000 from Liu by Leong. Leong was found guilty and sentenced to death on 19 May 2006 and hanged on 30 November 2007. The grotesque treatment towards the corpse of Liu Hong Mei is an example on why some form of capital punishment should still be held existent when society’s taboos and faiths are exploited and ill-treated.
Thus, we can see from this that contrary to popular belief, he voices of anti-death penalty and human rights groups are not ignored by the government.
Priscilla Chia, co-founder of We Believe In Second Chances blog, which has been campaigning against the mandatory death penalty, said that the new changes came as an “unexpected surprise”.
As the Chinese saying goes, “ 杀一儆百 （Sha Yi Jing Bai) ”, or to kill one man to warn a hundred. The death penalty should still be in place to keep a check and balance on society. This new moderate-leaning to the punishment is also able to clearly differentiate the severity of crimes like accidentally killing 1 person and killing 20 people on purpose, which before, would’ve resulted in the same deadly punishment.
With the new revisions of this controversial law, the Government has provided a grey area for us to ponder about as Singaporeans in what would otherwise be a two-sided heated debate between those who are in favour of keeping the ultimate punishment and those who want to see it abolished.
-Thanks to Immanuel Kai and Josiah Neo for some of the research details! We did awesome, guys!-
Tok, Cherylyn. “Kallang body parts murder.” National Library Board of Singapore: Singapore Infopedia. Web. 2011
Choo, Deborah.”Mandatory death penalty to be eased conditionally: DPM Teo.” Yahoo! News. Web. 9 Jul. 2012
“Mother will touch Nguyen’s hands.” The Age. Web. 1 Dec. 2005