Responding to the execution by hanging of Singaporean national Tangaraju s/o Suppiah on 26 April, after he was convicted of abetting the trafficking of approximately 1 kilogram of cannabis in proceedings that violated international human rights law and standards, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director Ming Yu Hah said:
“This unlawful execution shows yet again the staggering failure of Singapore’s stubborn embrace of the death penalty. The many flaws in the case, from lack of access to legal counsel and of interpretation from the point of arrest, to the lack of disclosure of key evidence from the prosecution, as well as the continued reliance on the mandatory death penalty renders this execution arbitrary under international human rights law.
“The country’s highly repressive drug control law includes the mandatory death penalty which means that judges are not allowed to take into consideration possible mitigating circumstances at sentencing, including circumstances of the crime, background of the defendant or other factors relevant to the case. This is a punishment that Singapore’s neighbour Malaysia is in the process of fully abolishing to advance the protection of the right to life.
“Singapore’s punitive drug policies have failed not only to tackle the use and availability of drugs in the country, but also failed to offer effective protection from drug-related harm. The government of Singapore must take note of the growing trend around the world towards abandoning the death penalty and act accordingly, first by establishing an official moratorium on all executions, then moving towards full abolition.”
Tangaraju s/o Suppiah, 46, was executed on Wednesday 26 April 2023. Suppiah was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2018 for assisting in the trafficking of 1,017g (35.9 ounces) of cannabis into Singapore in 2013.
He was accused of coordinating with two men to traffic cannabis in September 2013, but never received the drugs allegedly ordered by him. His conviction is mainly based on statements that he gave during police interrogation, with no lawyer nor interpreter present; and on the testimony of his two co-accused, who appeared as prosecution witnesses and who linked him to a mobile phone number that he said he had lost before the offence took place.
One of the co-accused later had his charges dismissed. Additionally, the prosecution failed to locate a fourth man, whom the judges deemed to be material to corroborate this witness’ statement. The Prosecution also failed to disclose to the defence statements made by the co-accused, as well as phone records in question.
Following amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act effective from 2013, judges in Singapore have some sentencing discretion in cases where the role of the defendant was limited to transporting drugs (“courier”) provided that the public prosecutor issue a certificate of substantive assistance with the authorities, or defendants are found to have mental or intellectual disabilities that substantially impaired their mental responsibility for their acts and omissions in relation to the offence.
Alarmingly, if the prosecution does not provide a certificate of assistance after a defendant is found to be a “courier”, the court is deprived of any discretionary powers and must sentence the accused to death, shifting the sentencing decision in practice to the prosecution.
Singapore has executed 12 people since March 2022, after a two years’ hiatus. The last known execution was carried out in October 2022. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. As of today, 112 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice.