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Lawyers For Liberty founder N Surendran and executive director Latheefa Koya. Source: HAKAM

Lawyers For Liberty lambast K Shanmugam’s allegedly “arrogant and unbecoming” remark on Malaysia’s de facto Law Minister

Malaysian lawyer and founder of human rights and law reform organisation Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) N Surendran has lambasted Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s alleged “attack” on Malaysia’s de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong, branding the Minister’s remarks “arrogant & unbecoming” of a senior minister.

Mr Shanmugam told The Straits Times that Datuk Liew had reached out to Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong, in addition to writing in to the Singapore Government over the case of 31-year-old Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, a Malaysian drug mule on death row who has been granted a stay of execution by the Court of Appeal on Thu (23 May), just one day before his execution was due to take place.

He said that while he acknowledges that some ministers in the Pakatan Harapan government are “ideologically opposed” to the death penalty, Singapore remains steadfast with its decision to continue imposing the death penalty on persons found guilty of drug trafficking, and thus expects Malaysia to “respect that condition as well.”

“It is not tenable to give a special moratorium to Malaysians, and impose it on everyone else, including Singaporeans who commit offences which carry the death penalty,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the Government will not “be deflected from doing the right thing for Singapore” and its population, whom he believes “is supportive of that stand.”

“It is simply not doable to keep asking Singapore not to carry out the penalties imposed by the courts,” he said, adding that the Singapore Government “will respond to Mr Liew once the case is over”.

Mr Surendran, via a string of tweets, issued a retort to the Singapore Law Minister’s remarks, stating that his dismissal of Datuk Liew’s letter of appeal as “ideological” is inappropriate against “a minister of a friendly country”:

Mr Surendran also rebutted Mr Shanmugam’s claim that the death penalty serves as an “effective deterrent” against drug trafficking, highlighting that the Minister did not offer any proof supporting his claim, and that studies have shown that “execution doesn’t deter traffickers”.

Referring to one of Mr Shanmugam’s “suggestions” to Datuk Liew on how to manage the problem of Malaysians trafficking drugs into the Republic, Mr Surendran labelled the suggestion to “arrest the traffickers before they come into Singapore” to avoid them from facing the death penalty in Singapore as “childish” and “silly” for a Cabinet minister:

The Malaysian lawyer also questioned Mr Shanmugam’s claim that Singapore’s population supports the death penalty for drug-related offences when “there’s barely any freedom of expression” in the Republic, where “timid” Singaporeans shy away from criticising “their govt”:

LFL’s executive director Latheefa Koya also took to Twitter on Fri (24 May) to criticise Mr Shanmugam’s statement on the death penalty against “poor M’sians who are lured in as drug mules”, highlighting the contradiction between such a stance and his Vesak Day message, which advocated “kindness” and “compassion”:

Pannir Selvam, who is represented by Singapore lawyers Too Xing Ji and Lee Ji En, had applied for a stay on his death sentence on the grounds of challenging President Halimah Yacob’s rejection of his petition for clemency.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, one of the three Court of Appeal judges who had granted his request for clemency, said that Pannir Selvam, who was convicted in 2017 for the offence of trafficking 51.84g of heroin into Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint in 2014, was told of the rejection and his execution date just a week prior to the scheduled execution date, which did not leave the Malaysian man with sufficient time to seek legal advice on what he could do to challenge the rejection.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in response to Malaysian media reports, said on Thu that Pannir Selvam’s petition was “carefully considered”, and that President Halimah had acted on the advice of the Cabinet in not granting clemency, in line with Singapore’s Constitution.