As the matter is currently going through investigations and will be heard in court soon, this is considered sub judice. With this, I urge the Attorney General’s Chambers to charge all the editors and journalists from the mainstream media with contempt of court.
Filed under: News Articles, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
Originally posted on Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign:
SADPC is very concerned about the following case and will be following it together with We Believe in Second Chances, Think Centre and members of civil society who are equally concerned.
SINGAPORE: The mother accused of murdering her nine-year-old son in West Coast has been found to be of sound mind.
Rebecca Loh Chui Lai allegedly caused the death of Gabriel Loh, who was found lying unconscious at the foot of a block of flats at West Coast Road on 1 June.
The boy was declared dead shortly after 7pm, less than an hour after he was sent to the National University Hospital (NUH).
It is understood that the boy attended a special needs school.
On Monday, the court heard that Loh was remanded for psychiatric assessment and was found to be of sound mind.
The prosecution said the 31-year-old is fit for court proceedings.
She has been remanded…
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In order to ensure that Singapore remains free of independent media unaffiliated to the State, the Media Development Authority (MDA) came up with a new framework that requires websites reporting on local affairs (one article per week over two months) with a readership of 50,000 unique visitors each month to be individually licensed.
You know what, you can kiss my arse, MDA.
By Tessa Wong
May 28, 2013.
From June 1, websites that regularly report Singapore news and have significant reach will require individual licences to operate.
Currently, most websites are covered automatically under a class licence scheme. But the Media Development Authority (MDA) will require websites to be individually licensed once they meet two criteria.
These are: if they report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and have at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month over a period of two months. The individual licenses have to be renewed every year.
Under the new framework, these sites must also put up a performance bond of $50,000, similar to that required for niche TV broadcasters.
Announcing the ruling on Tuesday, the MDA said the move would place such sites on a “more consistent regulatory framework” with traditional news platforms like newspapers and television stations, which are individually licensed.
The licence makes clear that online news sites are expected to remove content that is in breach of MDA standards within 24 hours, once notified to do so.
This material could cover content that is against the public interest, public security, or national harmony.
When the MDA deems that a site has met the criteria for individual licensing, it will issue a formal notification and work with the site to move it to the new framework.
Ten sites currently fit the media regulator’s criteria, of which seven are run by Singapore Press Holdings.
The 10 are: straitstimes.com, asiaone.com, businesstimes.com.sg, omy.sg, stomp.com.sg, tnp.sg, zaobao.com as well as the sites for Today newspaper, ChannelNewsAsia and Yahoo News.
Source: Straits Times
Migraine plagued me the whole of Sunday so I went out for a walk in the evening, away from my laptop. I should have gone to bed the moment I came home but my fingers seemed to have a life of their own and in a minute, my laptop was alive and kicking. Now, the first thing I came face to face with was the following image that was first published by the ST:
Well, I read the description of the first photograph with my brows raised so high up that I believe that they nearly dropped. Yes, I was one of those who “harassed people” who have been “identified as police officers” and have posted their photographs on Facebook. So did my friends, who were there with their powerful DSLR cameras. Martyn See posted videos of him trying to enter into conversations with two of the police officers on Facebook, which went viral. So what? This is our way of saying that we are not intimidated.
By the way, they were indeed police officers and I am sure that reporters at ST are well aware of it so my recommendation is that they just admit it. Either that or prove to us that they are not because one does not simply put words onto a piece of paper for national circulation without some form of journalistic research.
I have one question for ST and their wonderful counterparts in the mainstream media and that is,
“When activists and members of civil society got harassed by agents who we believe to be from the police force, why have you never written anything about our harassment?”
The answer is obvious: You are all part of the propaganda machinery.
Oh just one more thing: There is a difference between a “protest” and a “solidarity gathering”. What Jolovan organised was not a protest, but a solidarity gathering. Thank you very much.
The reviews have begun…
Originally posted on Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign:
By Neo Chai Chin – 01 May 2013
SINGAPORE — Two men on death row for murder had their cases sent back to the High Court for resentencing yesterday — the first since the law was amended to give judges sentencing discretion in some murder cases.
Both men are foreign nationals whose appeals had been dismissed by the Court of Appeal before Parliament passed amendments to the Penal Code last November. Previously, the death penalty was mandatory for all murder cases.
Indian national Gopinathan Nair Remadevi Bijukumar’s case was heard first yesterday afternoon. The prosecution did not object when his lawyer Shashi Nathan sought for his matter to be heard again before a trial judge.
Gopinathan, 37, a former shipyard worker, was found guilty of murdering Filipino prostitute Roselyn Reyes Pascua. She was found dead in her rented room in Peony Mansion in Bencoolen Street in March 2010.
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Filed under: News Articles, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
One man’s death sentence overturned, another remains on death row.
Originally posted on Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign:
By K.C. Vijayan
The Straits Times
Monday, Mar 11, 2013
SINGAPORE – DEATH row inmate Mervin Singh was spared the gallows on Friday when the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction for drug trafficking.
The 37-year-old had been sentenced to hang after being caught with a pink box containing nine packets of heroin.
He denied knowing that the drugs were inside, saying he thought he was transporting a consignment of contraband cigarettes. On Friday, his four-year ordeal came to an end after the Appeals Court ruled in his favour.
The inmate looked calm when his conviction was set aside. “I slept well last night,” he said as he was being taken away, and thanked his lawyer Selva Naidu.
Singh was caught with 186.62g of heroin on him at a Housing Board block in Tampines in November 2008.
His lawyers argued that he had gone there to collect contraband cigarettes and…
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Filed under: News Articles, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
A piece of old news but because I have been busy, I have forgotten to share this here.
Originally posted on Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign:
By K.c. Vijayan
The Straits Times
Tuesday, Jan 01, 2013
SINGAPORE – They were facing certain death by hanging, but may now get a lifeline as changes to the mandatory death penalty kick in from Jan 1.
A key plank in the amendments to the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code as well as the Misuse of Drugs Act will give these prisoners an opportunity to introduce new evidence to prove that they satisfy the new conditions for a life sentence instead of death.
In Singapore, a life sentence lasts for a prisoner’s natural life, but he can apply for a review of his sentence after he has served 20 years in jail.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) told The Sunday Times on Friday that the changes would affect 32 inmates on death row, whose appeals had been dealt with previously.
The amended laws provide a chance for these prisoners to apply…
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(Singapore ranks 149th this year, dropping 14 places off the charts. We were at 135th last year.)
See the all reports, the press freedom map and the index :
Voir tous les rapports, la carte de la liberté de la presse et le classement :
Asia-Pacific: 2013 index
Burmese spring an exception to decline in freedom of information in Asia
Only three Asian countries are in the top 25 percent of the table, while 15 countries are among the bottom 45 places. Unsurprisingly, one-party authoritarian governments figure more than ever among the predators of press freedom and languish at the bottom end of the table.
Burma’s paper revolution
Burma went through dramatic changes in 2012 and moved up to 151th place, a rise of 18 places, jumping ahead of its usual bedfellows in the media repression stakes. There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship. Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favour of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organizations from exile, are significant steps towards genuine freedom of information.
China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea: no signs of improvement
North Korea (178th), China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th), all ruled by authoritarian parties, still refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed. The control of news and information is a key issue for these government, which are horrified at the prospect of being open to criticism. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il on 30 December 2011, appears to rule in concert with the military junta.
In Vietnam and China, those involved in online news and information, such as bloggers and netizens, are forced to deal with increasingly harsh repression. Many Tibetan monks have been convicted or abducted for having sent information abroad about the disastrous state of human rights in Tibet. Commercial news outlets and foreign media organizations are still censored regularly by the propaganda department. Faced with the growing power of social networks and their ability to muster support, the authorities have redoubled their efforts to hone their capability to track “sensitive” content and delete it immediately from the Web. In less than a year, Vietnamese courts have sentenced 12 bloggers and cyber-dissidents to jail terms of up to 13 years, making the country the world’s second biggest prison for netizens, after China.
General decline in freedom of information in South Asia
The Indian subcontinent was the Asian region that saw the sharpest deterioration in the climate for those involved in news and information in 2012. In the Maldives, which crashed to 103rd place (-30), the events that led to the resignation of President Mohammed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders.
Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago.
Four journalists were killed in India and Bangladesh in 2012, which fell to 140th and 144th respectively in the index. In India, the “world’s biggest democracy”, the authorities insist on censoring the Web and imposing more and more taboos, while violence against journalists goes unpunished and the regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh become increasingly isolated. Bangladesh is not far behind. Its journalists are frequently targets of police violence. When they are not acting as aggressors, the security forces stand by passively while enemies of the media enjoy impunity and are rarely brought to justice. The killers of the journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, and those behind the double murder, remained at large and the investigation was cynically entrusted to the Rapid Action Battalion where it remains bogged down.
The ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan (159th, -8) and Nepal (118th, -12) continued to worsen in the absence of any government policy to protect media workers. Despite having a diverse and lively media, Pakistan remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters.
Japan resorts to press restrictions
Japan, demoted from 22nd to 53rd place, recorded the biggest drop of any Asian country. The reason was the ban imposed by the authorities on independent coverage of any topic related directly or indirectly to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Several freelance journalists who complained that public debate was being stifled were subjected to censorship, police intimidation and judicial harassment.
The continued existence of the discriminatory system of “kisha clubs”, exclusive press clubs which restrict access to information to their own members, is a key element that could prevent the country from moving up the index significantly in the near future.
Afghanistan: genuine but fragile improvement
Afghanistan (128th, +22) has a considerably better rating than in previous years, although violence against journalists did not disappear completely and the government neglected to tackle the issue of impunity. No journalists were killed in 2012 and arrests of media workers declined. The withdrawal of some foreign troops from the international coalition and deteriorating conditions in neighbouring Pakistan meant these improvements were precarious.
Cambodia and Malaysia: drift towards authoritarianism
Conditions for the media are critical in Cambodia, which fell 26 places to 146th in the index, its lowest ever position. Since 2011, news organizations, in particular independent local and foreign radio stations, have been subjected to a policy of censorship orchestrated by an increasingly ruthless information ministry. On 1 October 2012, Mam Sonando, the owner of an independent radio station, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for insurrection and inciting others to take up arms against the state. The decline in freedom of information also involved deadly attacks and death threats aimed at journalists who exposed government corruption and illegal activities harmful to the environment.
Malaysia (145th) also presented a sorry record, falling 23 places to a position below the one it had in 2002. Despite an all-out battle by rights activists and online media outlets, a campaign of repression by the government, illustrated by the crackdown on the “Bersih 3.0” protest in April, and repeated censorship efforts, continue to undermine basic freedoms, in particular the right to information.
Papua-New Guinea and Fiji: threats against journalists greeted with indifference
Threats to the media should not be taken lightly in these two Pacific archipelagos. In Papua-New Guinea (41st, -6), the security forces are regularly involved in attacks on journalists. In Fiji (107th), despite a 10-place rise explained in part by the decline of other countries in this section of the index, news organizations are threatened under the Media Industry Development Decree with exorbitant fines, or even imprisonment, as in the case of a recently convicted editor of the Fiji Times.
2013 WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX
Dashed hopes follow spring
After the “Arab springs” and other protest movements that prompted many rises and falls in last year’s index, the 2013 ReportersWithout Borders World Press Freedom Index marks a return to a more usual configuration.
The ranking of most countries is no longer attributable to dramatic political developments. This year’s index is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term.
The same three European countries that headed the index last year hold the top three positions again this year. For the third year running, Finland has distinguished itself as the country that most respects media freedom. It is followed by the Netherlands and Norway.
Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Again it is the same three as last year – Turkmenistan,North Korea and Eritrea.
“The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse.”
Reporters Without Borders launches media freedom “indicator”
Coinciding with the release of its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders is for the first time publishing an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom. This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom.
In view of the emergence of new technologies and the interdependence of governments and peoples, the freedom to produce and circulate news and information needs to be evaluated at the planetary as well as national level. Today, in 2013, the media freedom “indicator” stands at 3395, a point of reference for the years to come.
The indicator can also be broken down by region and, by means of weighting based on the population of each region, can be used to produce a score from zero to 100 in which zero represents total respect for media freedom. This produces a score of 17.5 for Europe, 30.0 for the Americas, 34.3 for Africa, 42.2 for Asia-Pacific and 45.3 for the former Soviet republics. Despite the Arab springs, the Middle East and North Africa region comes last with 48.5.
The high number of journalists and netizens killed in the course of their work in 2012 (the deadliest year ever registered byReporters Without Borders in its annual roundup), naturally had an a significant impact on the ranking of the countries where these murders took place, above all Somalia (175th, -11), Syria (176th, 0), Mexico (153rd, -4) and Pakistan (159th, -8).
From top to bottom
The Nordic countries have again demonstrated their ability to maintain an optimal environment for news providers. Finland (1st, 0),Netherlands (2nd, +1) and Norway (3rd, -2) have held on to the first three places. Canada (20th, -10) only just avoided dropping out of the top 20. Andorra (5th) and Liechtenstein (7th) have entered the index for the first time just behind the three leaders.
At the other end of the index, the same three countries as ever – Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea – occupy the last three places in the index. Kim Jong-un’s arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime’s absolute control of news and information. Eritrea (179th, 0), which was recently shaken by a brief mutiny by soldiers at the information ministry, continues to be a vast open prison for its people and lets journalists die in detention. Despite its reformist discourse, the Turkmen regime has not yielded an inch of its totalitarian control of the media.
For the second year running, the bottom three countries are immediately preceded by Syria (176th, 0), where a deadly information war is being waged, and Somalia (175th, -11), which has had a deadly year for journalists. Iran (174th, +1), China (173rd, +1),Vietnam (unchanged at 172nd), Cuba (171st, -4), Sudan (170th, 0) and Yemen (169th, +2) complete the list of the ten countries that respect media freedom least. Not content with imprisoning journalists and netizens, Iran also harasses the relatives of journalists, including the relatives of those who are abroad.
Malawi (75th, +71) registered the biggest leap in the index, almost returning to the position it held before the excesses at the end of the Mutharika administration. Côte d’Ivoire (96th, +63), which is emerging from the post-electoral crisis between the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, has also soared, attaining its best position since 2003. Burma (151st, +18) continued the ascent begun in last year’s index. Previously, it had been in the bottom 15 every year since 2002 but now, thanks to the Burmese spring’s unprecedented reforms, it has reached its best-ever position. Afghanistan (128th, +22) also registered a significant rise thanks to the fact that no journalists are in prison. It is nonetheless facing many challenges, especially with the withdrawal of foreign troops.
…and big falls
Mali (99th, -74) registered the biggest fall in the index as a result of all the turmoil in 2012. The military coup in Bamako on 22 March and the north’s takeover by armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists exposed the media in the north to censorship and violence. Tanzania (70th, -36) sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.
Buffeted by social and economic protests, the Sultanate of Oman (141st) sank 24 places, the biggest fall in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. Some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights.
Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.
In Asia, Japan (53rd, -31) has been affected by a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima. This sharp fall should sound an alarm. Malaysia (145th, -23) has fallen to its lowest-ever position because access to information is becoming more andmore limited. The same situation prevails in Cambodia(143rd, -26), where authoritarianism and censorship are on the increase. Macedonia (116th, -22) has also fallen more than 20 places following the arbitrary withdrawal of media licences and deterioration in the environment for journalists.
Varied impact of major protest movements
Last year’s index was marked by the Arab spring’s major news developments and the heavy price paid by those covering the protest movements. A range of scenarios has been seen in 2012, including countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where regime change has taken place, countries such as Syria and Bahrain where uprisings and the resulting repression are still ongoing, and countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where the authorities have used promises and compromise to defuse calls for political and/or social and economic change.
Some of the new governments spawned by these protests movements have turned on the journalists and netizens who covered these movements’ demands and aspirations for more freedom. What with legal voids, arbitrary appointments of state media chiefs, physical attacks, trials and a lack of transparency, Tunisia (138th, -4) and Egypt (158th, +8) have remained at a deplorable level in the index and have highlighted the stumbling blocks that Libya (131st, +23) should avoid in order to maintain its transition to a free press.
The deadliest country for journalists in 2012 was Syria (176th, 0), where journalists and netizens are the victims of an information war waged by both the Assad regime, which stops at nothing in order to crack down and impose a news blackout, and by opposition factions that are increasingly intolerant of dissent. In Bahrain (165th, +8) the repression let up slightly, while in Yemen(169th, +2) the prospects continue to be disturbing despite a change of government. Oman (141st, -24) fell sharply because of a wave of arrests of netizens.
Other countries hit by protests saw changes for the better and worse. Vietnam (172nd, 0) failed to recover the six places it lost in the previous index. The world’s second biggest prison for netizens, it has remained in the bottom ten. Uganda (104th, +35) has recovered a more appropriate position although it has not gone back to where it was before cracking down on protests in 2011.
Azerbaijan (156th, +6) and Belarus (157th, +11) both fell last year after using violence to suppress opposition demonstrations and this year they just moved back towards their appalling former positions. Chile (60th, +20) is beginning to recover after plummeting 33 places to 80th in last year’s index.
Political instability puts journalists in the eye of the storm
Political instability often has a divisive effect on the media and makes it very difficult to produce independently-reported news and information. In such situations, threats and physical attacks on journalists and staff purges are common. Maldives (103rd, -30) fell sharply after the president’s removal in an alleged coup, followed by threats and attacks on journalists regarded as his supporters. In Paraguay (91st, -11), the president’s removal in a parliamentary “coup” on 22 June 2012 had a big impact on state-owned broadcasting, with a wave of arbitrary dismissals against a backdrop of unfair frequency allocation.
Guinea-Bissau (92nd, -17) fell sharply because the army overthrew the government between the first and second rounds of a presidential election and imposed military censorship on the media. In Mali (99th, -74), a military coup fuelled tension, many journalists were physically attacked in the capital and the army now controls the state-owned media. This index does not reflect the January 2013 turmoil in the Central African Republic (65th, -3) but its impact on media freedom is already a source of extreme concern.
“Regional models” found wanting
In almost all parts of the world, influential countries that are regarded as “regional models” have fallen in the index. Brazil (108th, -9), South America’s economic engine, continued last year’s fall because five journalists were killed in 2012 and because of persistent problems affecting media pluralism.
In Asia, India (140th, -9) is at its lowest since 2002 because of increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because Internet censorship continues to grow. China (173rd, +1) shows no sign of improving. Its prisons still hold many journalists and netizens, while increasingly unpopular Internet censorship continues to be a major obstacle to access to information.
In Eastern Europe, Russia (148th, -6) has fallen again because, since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, repression has been stepped up in response to an unprecedented wave of opposition protests. The country also continues to be marked by the unacceptable failure to punish all those who have murdered or attacked journalists. The political importance of Turkey (154th, -6) has grown even more because of the armed conflict in neighbouring Syria but it has again fallen in the index. It is currently the world’s biggest prison for journalists, especially those who express views critical of the authorities on the Kurdish issue.
There is no comparison with South Africa (52nd, -10), where freedom of information is a reality. It still has a respectable ranking but it has been slipping steadily in the index and, for the first time, is no longer in the top 50. Investigative journalism is threatened by the Protection of State Information Bill.
Democracies that stall or go into reverse
The situation is unchanged for much of the European Union. Sixteen of its members are still in the top 30. But the European model is unravelling. The bad legislation seen in 2011 continued, especially in Italy (57th, +4), where defamation has yet to be decriminalized and state agencies make dangerous use of gag laws. Hungary (56th, -16) is still paying the price of its repressive legislative reforms, which had a major impact on the way journalists work. But Greece’s dramatic fall (84th, -14) is even more disturbing. The social and professional environment for its journalists, who are exposed to public condemnation and violence from both extremist groups and the police, is disastrous.
Japan (53rd, -31) plummeted because of censorship of nuclear industry coverage and its failure to reform the “kisha club” system. This is an alarming fall for a country that usually has a good ranking. Argentina (54th, -7) fell amid growing tension and clashes between the government and certain privately-owned media about a new law regulating the broadcast media.
SINGAPORE: Parliament on Monday debated proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act aimed at strengthening Singapore’s ability to deal more effectively with new challenges, among them the growing number of young drug abusers and the worsening regional drug situation.
Sixteen MPs spoke on the move to give the courts more discretionary powers in meting out the death penalty.
Under the proposed changes, a drug trafficker may escape the gallows if two conditions are met: when a drug offender has been proven to be merely a courier and the person has been certified to have substantively assisted the authorities in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.
The courier can also be spared the death sentence in view of mental disability.
While the MPs welcomed the move to impose a sentence more fitting to the culpability of the wrongdoer, most of them cautioned against the perception that Singapore is moving away from its zero-tolerance on drugs.
Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: “Sir, I am also concerned that the alternative sentence of a life imprisonment instead of the death sentence may be wrongly perceived by the general public, especially among our young or unscrupulous drug traffickers, that they can be opportunistic when it comes to drug trafficking because of the amendments to this Act.
“The less informed may think that the drug trafficking offence has become less serious while the opportunists may think that they can get away with a less harsh sentence.
“Some may think that if they are being classified as a young person below the age of 21 or a vulnerable person when caught as a drug courier, they can claim to be simply a courier, cooperate with the Central Narcotics Bureau, and be given a life imprisonment instead of the death sentence, which they hope can be later reduced to several years’ imprisonment due to good behaviour.”
Dr Intan hoped that the general public, especially the young, will not have this false belief that the law is softening towards drug trafficking, and the seriousness of the drug trafficking offence must be emphasised time and again.
MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Edwin Tong pointed out the number of drug abuse arrests has gone up in recent years. What is more troubling, he said, is the rate of increase has been faster.
He added that abusers have also become younger.
Mr Tong said regional and local statistics show that Singapore is at a five-year high in terms of drug seizures, supplies and drug abuser arrests.
Coupled with a worsening regional drug situation, he is concerned the amendments send out a message that Singapore has had a fundamental re-think on its strict anti-drug philosophy.
Mr Tong said: “There are already some international publications which report this move as a relaxation of our hitherto strict laws, which is fair enough. But there are other commentators who regard this as a step in the right direction – except that they regard the direction as being one where the death penalty should eventually be abolished altogether for all forms of offences. This latter comment is not sustainable – particularly in the context of the drug abuse and supply landscape as now see it. Strong deterrence, with the harshest punishments, must still remain a corner stone principle for our anti-drug laws.”
MPs from the opposition Workers’ Party all rose in support of the changes but pushed for a total abolition of the death penalty.
This was echoed by two other Nominated Members of Parliament – Laurence Lien and Faizah Jamal.
Mr Lien said: “I understand the strong support by many in Singapore for the death penalty, and that we Singaporeans are rightly proud that Singapore is a safe and secure home and relatively free from drugs and serious crime. These ought to be outcomes we need to work hard to maintain.
“But where it comes to the death penalty, it is not just about our criminal justice system, which we also want to be proportionate and restorative; it also about the type of society that we want to build – a society that values every person and every human life, and one that doesn’t give up on its people.”
One MP stoutly defended Singapore’s strict anti-drug laws as he related his experience dealing with families destroyed by drugs.
Mr Christopher De Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, said: “I find it odd that so much of the debate is centered on the compassion society should have on the drug trafficker. That to me is skewed. Let us not forget who the victim here is – it is not the trafficker; it is society, it is the many families broken by drug addiction. We should have compassion for this brokenness too. The way to do so is to maintain immensely strong and muscular measures to deter drug traffickers from targeting Singapore.
“What we are debating today is not child’s play. It is very serious business. We mis-step, open the flood gates, our war on drugs falters. We cannot afford to mis-step, we cannot afford to open the flood gates.”
Mr De Souza warned that the criterion of ‘mental disability’ must be interpreted strictly to prevent abuse.
“If loose interpretations of mental disability are allowed, a legal case may boil down to a fight between the psychiatrist for the prosecution against that for the defence, with the judge being forced to weigh one psychiatrist’s assessment over the other’s.
“We need to pause and realise that a distinction must be drawn between diminished responsibility in the context of murder as opposed to drug trafficking. Killing can be a spontaneous act (especially for non-premeditated cases). Drug trafficking is often rational and calculated. It is seldom spontaneous.”
MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Alvin Yeo said the requirement to prove substantial cooperation with the authorities introduces an element of subjectivity.
Mr Yeo said: “What will happen if an accused person claims that he rendered his fullest cooperation but the CNB officer chose to not recognise it or not valued? What happens if the accused person insists he is a mere drug mule, and did not have any information on the ringleaders, although he was willing to cooperate fully? These sorts of accusations, if made enough times so as not to appear as isolated incidents, can undermine public confidence in the legal system we are seeking to uphold.”
Other changes to the Act include listing new psychoactive substances temporarily so they can be seized and circulation restricted; introducing hair analysis to enhance detection and deterrence; and making it an offence for anyone who plans a gathering where drug is consumed.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said the mandatory death penalty will continue to apply to drug traffickers in most circumstances.
Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, believes the measures strike the right balance, given the current operating environment.
Mr Teo said: “Today, Singaporeans enjoy a safe and secure environment because of our firm stance against drugs and crime. We have long taken a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach against the drug menace. The amendments proposed in this Bill will strengthen our ability to do so in our new operating environment and allow us to continue doing all we can to keep our streets safe and to protect our children from the scourge of drugs.”
The issues raised were varied. Some MPs wanted further clarification to some of the technicalities related to the new laws and how it may affect anti-drug operations on the ground.
There are others who raised concerns about the growing number of young Singaporeans who see drug-taking as fashionable, with no real harm done.
The debate on the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Bill will continue on November 14.