Newsbrief: Amnesty International Rakes Singapore over Executions, Mostly of Drug Offenders 1/16/04

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The tiny Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore has the world's highest execution rate, and a majority of those it executes are drug offenders, the human rights watchdog group Amnesty International charged in a report issued Thursday. Singapore authorities have executed at least 408 people since 1991, the report found, and at least 252 of them were drug offenders. The actual number of executed drug offenders is higher, but cannot be determined because Singapore will not release any information on executions in the last three years other than their annual totals.

Singapore has earned a reputation as an authoritarian society, and its drug laws certainly bolster that notion. Anyone holding more than half an ounce of heroin or little more than a pound of marijuana is presumed to be trafficking. The only sentence available for that offense: Death by hanging. That's what happened in one case cited by Amnesty, that of Rozman Jusoh. The 24-year-old Malaysian laborer was hanged for drug trafficking in 1996, despite a reported IQ of 74.

As everywhere else, the death penalty in Singapore falls disproportionately on the most marginalized members of society.

"Many of those executed have been migrant workers, drug addicts, the impoverished or those lacking in education," Amnesty said. "Drug addicts are particularly vulnerable. Many were hanged after being found in possession of relatively small quantities of drugs. Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act contains several clauses which conflict with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and provides for a mandatory death sentence for at least 20 different drug-related offences. For instance, any person found in possession of the key to anything containing controlled drugs is presumed guilty of possessing those drugs and, if the amount exceeds a specified amount, faces a mandatory death penalty for "trafficking".

"Such provisions erode the right to a fair trial and increase the risk of executing the innocent," Amnesty stressed. "Moreover, it is often the drug addicts or minor drug pushers who are hanged, while those who mastermind the crime of trafficking evade arrest and punishment."

Singapore is the runaway global leader in executions per capita with 13.6 per million citizens, according to the United Nations. It was followed by Saudi Arabia (4.65), Belarus (3.20), Sierra Leone (2.84), Kyrgyzstan (2.80), Jordan (2.12) and China (2.01). The United States couldn't place it that category, but it did take fourth in the total number executed. The US trailed first-place China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Saudi Arabia, but did manage to out-execute also-rans Nigeria and Singapore.

The Singapore government defended its policy. "By protecting Singaporeans from drugs, we are protecting their human rights," Inderjit Singh, a member of parliament, told the Associated Press. "The rule breakers have to be dealt with -- it's the same in any part of the world," said Singh, who is also president of a chip-making company. "We just do it differently."

To read the Amnesty International report, "Singapore: The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions," visit http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa360012004 online.

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