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Are sub-standard laws applicable only for Singaporeans?

by Tan Wah Piow

Will the Law Minister of Singapore explain in plain English why a Canadian defendant, if convicted of burglary would be spared the cane, while the same corporal punishment would be meted out against its own citizens?

I am referring to the Singapore Government’s assurance to the UK authorities on the extradition of David James Roach to Singapore, that if Roach were to be found guilty by a Singapore Court for robbery, he would not be caned. Roach was originally deported from Bangkok. Enroute to Canada, he landed in London in transit. Upon the request of the Singapore authorities, Roach was arrested in London pending extradition proceedings.

The UK government has a duty to ensure that its citizens and any defendant extradited from its shores would not be exposed to “inhumane and degrading treatment” if convicted. Caning as a form of judicial punishment is regarded as an inhumane and degrading practice. Caning was outlawed in the UK in 1948 as a form of judicial punishment.

By undertaking not to apply this form of judicial punishment to Roach in the event of conviction, the Singapore Government has effectively acknowledged that while the State could lawfully apply inhumane and degrading punishment to its own citizens, it would be in breach of international conventions if the same treatment is meted out to citizens of the United Kingdom.

That begs the question of whether Singaporeans are lower beings compared to anyone else extradited from Britain or any other Western country which upheld The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)? It appears that Singaporeans are liable to punishment under internationally sub-standard laws, while the gold standard of human rights are upheld in Singapore for a defendant such as Roach.

Other inhumane and degrading treatments in Singapore include detention without trial, and tortures during the period of such detention. 

Note:  Singapore is not amongst the 161 states that ratified or acceded to The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

I am not a fan of corporal punishment. In 1975 when I was held as a political prisoner at Singapore’s Queenstown Prison, I witnessed the barbaric practice of judicial caning.  I could not see the justification for drawing blood from the buttocks of convicts, or graffiti protestors.

Caning is also the prescribed punishment for political graffiti - known otherwise as vandalism. It was introduced in the 1960s by late Lee Kuan Yew. He was targeting left wing activists who wrote protest slogans on public walls and road surfaces. Prior to the amendment, vandalism was only punishable with a $50 fine and/or a week in jail.