Use alternate sentence in place of death sentence

For Immediate Release

The following is a joint Statement from the Think Centre, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, We Believe In Second Chances & Humanitarian Organization For Migration Economics (HOME)

Migrant workers facing capital punishment in Singapore: Use alternate sentence in place of death sentence

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, express our grave concern on the recent capital cases involving migrant workers in Singapore.

On 15 March 2010, Roselyn Reyes Pascua, a Filipina, was found in her room at Peony Mansion, Bencoolen Street with multiple stab wounds in the chest, abdomen, her genital area and a stab that went through her ribs into her heart, which was the fatal injury that took her life.

During his cross examination in court, Bijukumar Remadevi Nair Gopinathan, an Indian national, admitted to stabbing Ms Pascua due to “grave and sudden provocation” as she subsequently doubled the price for one hour of sex from the initially agreed amount of S$100 and refused to return him his “hard-earned” money according to reports. Gopinathan’s account was dismissed by Justice Choo Han Teck who noted in a nine-page judgment that due to the absence of defensive injury on Ms Pascua he agreed with the prosecution’s theory that Gopinathan had gone to Ms Pascua’s room to rob her.

Since Ms Pascua was unarmed, Justice Choo was not convinced that there was any basis for Gopinathan to stab her so many times. He also mentioned that because Gopinathan had, from the time of his arrest, given the police several versions of the incident, he had no hesitation in concluding that he was a totally untrustworthy witness. Gopinathan was then sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for the murder of Ms Pascua on 21 March 2012.

Similar sentences have also been imposed in the past year, mainly to low wage migrant workers. For example, twenty year old Malaysian Fabian Adiu Edwin was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang in September last year. He is one of two men from Sabah who beat up and robbed a thirty five year old Singaporean in 2008. In another case, a 32-year-old Chinese national was found guilty in September last year and given the death sentence for the murder of a taxi driver in 2009.

We are opposed to the death penalty that has been meted out to Indian national Bijukumar Remadevi Nair Gopinathan, Malaysian Fabian Adiu Edwin, and Chinese national Wang Wenfeng. Although we do not deny that these individuals have committed a grave crime and should be punished for it, we are opposed to the application of the death penalty on any individual, and for any crime for the reasons outlined below:

a) The Singapore government has argued that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to serious crimes. However, there is no reliable evidence, locally nor internationally, to show that it is any more effective than other forms of punishments. Based on numerous studies, criminologists agree that the death penalty has no deterrence value. The causes of violent crime that affect all societies are complex. Crime may be reduced through having better trained and equipped police officers, reducing poverty, improving education and implementing effective rehabilitation programmes. Executing a criminal gives the appearance of strong action being taken when in reality, does little to address why violent crimes are committed in the first place. Since the death penalty is irreversible, imposing the ultimate punishment on an individual demands that conclusive, irrefutable evidence is produced to support its use.

b) The criminal justice system is not infallible and as long as the judiciary has the death penalty, mistakes will be made and innocent people will be killed. Judges, prosecutors, and investigating officers are after all, human. For example, Taiwan’s Chiang Kuo Ching was wrongfully sentenced to death in 1997. Fresh investigations into the case after he was executed found no evidence of Chiang’s presence at the scene of the crime and established that he was tortured into making a confession. No legal system, however advanced, is
immune to miscarriages of justice. Judicial error, mistakes made in due processes, differing interpretations of the law and conviction based on ambiguous evidence are some of the possible mistakes that can be made. Inadequate legal assistance at any stage of court or investigation proceedings, especially when the person is poor and unable to hire a good lawyer are just some of the circumstances which may result in the innocent being executed.

c) Rehabilitation, not revenge should be the basis on which the justice system is built upon. In fact, the government has accepted this principle in its support and partnership with other voluntary welfare organisations of the yellow ribbon project. The continued use of the death penalty only serves to contradict the campaign message of the Yellow Ribbon Project that was launched in 2004 by former President of Singapore, Mr S R. Nathan, which seeks to advocate for society to give ex-offenders and their families a second chance, accept and support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into the society. The death penalty is an act of vengeance that is detrimental to building a civilized society, and demeaning to all of us as citizens. The continued use of it does not correspond to the desire for compassion, care and concern and does not give a chance for human beings to change.

In December 2007, the UN General Assembly voted 104 to 54 for a resolution on a moratorium on executions. Even though this decision is not legally binding on states, Singapore should not ignore the political significance of this resolution and the world-wide trend among nation states in abolishing the use of capital punishment.

We are cognizant that the death penalty is a ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading” punishment, and we reiterate that it should not be applied in any circumstances. We, as a society, should adopt a system where justice is meted out in a fair and humane manner. The death penalty is not acceptable and should be abolished or a moratorium applied. A moratorium will give a chance to re-examine both the purpose of the penalty and its perceived effectiveness, and can save the lives of the condemned – especially potential victims of miscarriages of justice. Let us rise above our feelings of vengeance to seek solutions. There are alternative punishments to the death penalty and we should not continue our practice of killing another human being in the name of justice or in maintaining the peace and security of our society.

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