4 Executions in 48 Hours — Singapore’s “unprecedented and vicious” rampage

In a span of just 48 hours, no less than four men have been executed by the Singaporean authorities. Selamat Bin Paki and Ali Bin Mohamad Bahashwan were executed on the afternoon of 24 October 2018 while Irwan Bin Ali and Prabu N Pathmanathan, a Malaysian, were executed earlier this morning (26 October 2018). In 48 hours, the Singaporean authorities executed as many men as they did in the whole of 2016. This brings the total number of executions for the month of October 2018 to 7. For context, in the whole of 2018, there were 8 executions carried out.

Prabu N Pathmanathan holding a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (Picture from We Belive in Second Chances)

This photo of Prabu, who was executed earlier today, was given to Kirsten Han, an anti-death penalty activist with We Believe in Second Chances by a friend of Prabu. He wanted the pictures to be published so as to “urge people not to be involved with drugs”. In Singapore, the families of inmates are usually notified of the inmate’s execution date no more than a week prior to the scheduled execution. This period used to be two weeks prior to the execution of Kho Jabing but for reasons best known to the authorities it has since be shortened to one week. During this week, the inmate’s families can send him civilian clothes for one final photoshoot. Photos from the photoshoot can be collected by the family following the execution.

Prabu’s family were only notified of his execution on 20 October 2018. News of his imminent execution attracted a lot of in Malaysia, where the newly elected Pakatan Harapan Government announced its plans to abolish the death penalty on 10 October 2018. The de-facto Malaysian Law Minister Liew Vui Keong penned a letter to the Singapore Government on 24 October 2018 to commute Prabu’s death sentence to life imprisonment. The Malaysian Bar also urged the Singapore Government to do the same. On 25 October 2018, two clemency petitions, one from Praba’s family and the other from Singaporean activists and civil society groups, were submitted to the President of Singapore for Prabu. At 11pm last evening, Malaysian Human Rights Lawyer announced on behalf of Prabu’s family that the President of Singapore was “unable to accede to their request” as the “clemency process has concluded.”

“Late last night, the Singapore President’s Office delivered a letter to Prabu’s family in response to their clemency petition. The letter stated that ‘the clemency process has concluded’ and ‘we are unable to accede to your request … This rejection is unlawful under the Singapore constitution as there is no bar to the filing of a fresh clemency petition. It is a flagrant breach of due process for the Singapore president to reject the family’s clemency petition without even considering it … Was this an underhanded method by Singapore authorities to execute secretly and prevent representations being made or court applications being filed? … It is disturbing that the Singapore government is prepared to disregard basic processes in their rush to execute this young Malaysian … Prabu’s parents and siblings are devastated by the execution of their son and brother … They wish to thank the Malaysian government, and everyone on both sides of the causeway, for their support and prayers over the past few difficult days” – N Surendran, Lawyers for Liberty

The executions also drew strong condemnation from the United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia and the FIDH.

“The secrecy surrounding executions in Singapore shows that the government is well aware that the ongoing use of the death penalty greatly damages the country’s image. Singapore should immediately halt all executions and reinstate its moratorium on the use of the death penalty.” – Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Vice President

The two week period between an inmate’s execution and the time his family is notified is but one of the once “safe” assumptions surrounding the death penalty in Singapore. Prior to the case of Jabing, activists and lawyers also operated under the assumption that if one could get an execution stayed, the inmate would not be hung until the following Friday morning – giving more time for the family to prepare for the execution and legal recourse, if any. However, the “rush” to execute Jabing following the dismissal of his criminal motion throws all of those assumptions, which were once widely accepted as conventions surrounding execution by all parties, out of the window. Earlier this week, with the execution of Selamat Bin Paki and Ali, we also learnt that executions can take place on days other than Fridays. Kirsten Han summarises the bleak situation in the following words:

“It is shocking to hear about a hanging taking place on a Wednesday, departing from years of precedent where executions took place at 6am on Fridays. Although it’s awful to hang people on any day of the week, this move away from the prison’s usual practice means that the little that we know about capital punishment in Singapore might no longer be true, making the death penalty regime even more opaque and unaccountable to the public than before.

We have also noticed that the time between the rejection of a clemency appeal and the scheduling of an execution has been reduced, which means families also have less time to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves.” – Kirsten Han, We Believe in Second Chances

TOC previously reported that there were three executions slated for this week but earlier today we learnt that Ali Bin Mohamad Bahashwan was executed alongside his co-accused earlier this week. The lack of official data relating to executions and the ever changing conventions governing executions make it increasingly harder for activists, reporters and lawyers to obtain information on executions quickly. Many a times, as we did earlier today, we had to independently verify the information before confirming it.

A photo of a placard at a candlelight vigil held on 25 October for the victims of the death penalty. (Photo by Natasha A Kendall)

If, as many proponents of the death penalty including our Law Minister put it, the main argument for retaining the death penalty is its supposed deterrent effect, one can’t help but ask what is the deterrent effect of “silent” executions?

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