~by: Braema Mathi / President, MARUAH~
MARUAH registers its deep concern that, for the second time in recent months, but for the timely intervention of the Court of Appeal, another man would have been hanged. ["Man on death row for trafficking acquitted.” ST 7 March 2012.]
The appeal judges ruled that it was unsafe to admit in evidence two confessions recorded from Azman bin Mohamed Sanwan by an Assistant Superintendent of the Central Narcotics Bureau, behind the backs of Azman’s two defence lawyers.
The prosecutors of the Attorney-General’s Chambers had contended – and, the ruling of the High Court trial judge was – that the two confessions were made voluntarily.
Azman had claimed that he made the two confessions because the senior CNB officer threatened to implicate his wife and promised him that he would be spared the death penalty, if he co-operated with the investigation. The appeal court was not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the two confessions were obtained without any inducement, threat or promise. The appeal court set aside the death sentence.
Earlier, the appeal court also set aside the death sentence conviction of Ismil Kader. In that widely-publicised case, two statements were recorded from Ismil Kadar by a Senior Station Inspector in contravention of procedural requirements of criminal law as well as the Police General Orders. The appeal court ruled that the two statements should have been excluded from being admitted in evidence in court. Further, the appeal court mentioned that the prosecution was slow in making available to the defence, evidence favourable to the defence. Likewise, the appeal court set aside the death sentence meted out against Ismil.
That a death sentence conviction can be declared unsafe even though the prosecution was undertaken by experienced prosecutors, and the accused tried by experienced High Court judges gives much food for thought as to whether Singapore should impose a moratorium on carrying out death penalties. What if our appeal judges, unknowingly or inadvertently, also slip up?
The nature of a capital sentence is that it is irreversible. Society can or may therefore agree with the use of the death penalty in good conscience, if and only if it is assured that executions will never be done in error. These two cases suggest that we can never be completely sure of the absence of error.
MARUAH therefore renews its call to the authorities to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and to review its position on the mandatory death penalty, if not the death penalty entirely. The nature of a conviction on a capital charge is that it is irreversible.
MARUAH is a human rights NGO based in Singapore.