PETALING JAYA: Lawyers and rights activists are at loggerheads over a Singapore minister’s remark that it is “untenable” to have a moratorium on Malaysians sentenced to death in Singapore courts for drug trafficking.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said Malaysian de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong’s appeal to exempt Malaysian Pannir Selvam Pranthaman from the death sentence showed he did not respect Singapore’s rule of law.
Commenting on this, criminal lawyer Rosal Azimin Ahmad said: “Such an act can be considered as an attempt to interfere with the process of law of another country. I disagree with (Liew’s) action.”
However, he told FMT an appeal on humanitarian grounds could still be made.
“Perhaps the minister can attach a written appeal from the family, which means the minister is acting on behalf of the family members for the consideration of the Singaporean government,” Rosal said.
But he noted it was not appropriate to ask another country to spare the death penalty imposed by its court as other people might use it as a precedent.
Lawyer Christina Teng, a staunch supporter of the death penalty, said Singapore was drug-free because the republic’s authorities were strict in upholding the rule of law and protecting the interest of the public.
“That should actually take priority for them, before anything else,” she said, adding that Putrajaya “had the freedom to ask” but there was a need to “look at the bigger picture”.
Shanmugam had said: “It is not tenable to give a special moratorium to Malaysians, and impose it on everyone else, including Singaporeans who commit offences which carry the death penalty.
“Let me be quite clear, it’s not possible for us to do so, regardless of how many requests we receive.”
The issue cropped up after a stay of execution was given to Pannir, who was sentenced to death in 2017 for drug trafficking in 2014, on the back of appeals from Putrajaya to spare him the gallows.
However, not everyone has thrown in their support for Shanmugam’s stand.
Petaling Jaya MP and human rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah said sparing Pannir’s life was not going against the Singaporean rule of law.
“The death penalty is an unusual and cruel form of punishment and hence runs contrary to justice, rights and freedom,” she said.
“It is also a fact that the death penalty is not a deterrent against trafficking and heinous crimes.”
She said if the death penalty, as claimed by Shanmugam, was an effective deterrent, then there should not be a need to discuss Pannir’s case or other drug trafficking cases today as they would not exist.
“Clearly, the death penalty does not work and more substantive and preventive measures are required to eliminate drug-related crimes,” she said.
Maria also told FMT it was disconcerting that Shanmugam appeared to ridicule what she said was a “compassionate appeal” from Liew and label it as “ideological”.
“This is discourteous and ungracious of minister Shanmugam to treat another fellow diplomat in such a dismissive manner,” she said.
“Our law minister is not asking for special treatment for Malaysian detainees on death row. This compassionate appeal is not a green light for drug trafficking.
“Pannir’s offence can still and should be dealt with under different existing laws, especially for drug mules.”
She said she had always been against corporal and capital punishment and believed in the right to life and to live.
Former Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) acting chairman Jerald Joseph said Malaysia and Singapore should move away from the death penalty as a means of punishment.
“Why not start the conversation and open up this discourse?” he asked.
“While it’s not a quick and easy decision for a government, the call by advocates from our side of the causeway is reason enough to have more discussions and be open to other considerations when handling drug trafficking cases.
“We don’t see that as backing down on the rule of law.”
He also pointed out that the rule of law included considerations of natural justice and looking at other alternatives when there was a possibility that did not downplay the punitive nature needed for offences committed.
“I am sure a reconsideration of the death penalty could be a way forward in these modern times as society moves away from archaic methods.”
Jerald said citizens of other Asean countries would welcome such a move.
“This is one penalty that has no U-turn and has an impact on one’s right of life,” he said.