Sentencing of Kho Jabing Violated Fair Trial Rights
(Bangkok, May 16, 2016) – Singapore President Tony Tan should urgently grant clemency to death row prisoner Kho Jabing, who is due to be executed on May 20, Human Rights Watch said today. Jabing was convicted of the murder of Cao Ruyin in 2007.
On April 5, 2016, the Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court, dismissed Kho Jabing’s appeal. An Appeals Court panel in January 2015 had reversed, by 3 to 2, a High Court ruling overturning Kho Jabing’s death sentence. At dispute was whether his actions during a botched robbery had been done in “blatant disregard of human life.” At the time of Kho Jabing’s conviction, Singapore law imposed a mandatory death penalty for the offense, thus preventing the court from considering the full circumstances of the crime.
“President Tan should grant clemency to Kho Jabing in recognition of sentencing reforms under Singapore law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The death penalty is always cruel, and a man’s life should not hinge on a legal technicality.”
Mandatory death sentences are contrary to the rights to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said. As the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stated in 2005, a mandatory death sentence “makes it impossible [for the court] to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case…. The adoption of such a black-and-white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake.”
In 2012, Singapore’s parliament amended the Penal Code to provide courts with some discretion in sentencing certain categories of murder, including murder without intent. Since the change of law was considered retroactive, Kho Jabing sought a review of his death sentence, stating the murder had not been pre-meditated, and there had been no “blatant disregard for human life.”
In August 2013, the High Court agreed, and re-sentenced Kho Jabing to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane. Kho Jabing’s accomplice in the crime, Galing Anak Kujat, had his conviction for murder overturned, and the court re-sentenced him for committing robbery with hurt, and sentenced him to 18 and a half years in prison, and 19 strokes of the cane.
Singapore is one of few countries that retains the death penalty, claiming without evidence that capital punishment deters crime. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility.
“Singapore’s continued use of the death penalty has no place in a modern state,” Robertson said. “President Tan should cut through the complexities and controversies of this case and grant Kho Jabing clemency so that he is imprisoned for life.”