Malaysia lawyer N Surendran / photo:

Lawyers For Liberty push for moratorium on Malaysian death row prisoners in Singapore, urge for “thorough” review on clemency rejections

In what the Malaysian human rights society has dubbed “an execution binge”, Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) has condemned the apparent wholesale rejection of clemency petitions of Malaysian death row prisoners in Singapore by the President.

LFL founder and advisor N. Surendran in a press statement on Fri (12 Jul) said that while the rejection of 10 death row prisoners’ clemency petition over just the past one week by President Halimah Yacob “is a record number”, the society is concerned that “the actual number of rejections may be even higher than the information” it has received so far.

“The large and sudden number of clemency rejections are unprecedented and shocking. It indicates that Singapore is preparing for an execution binge, in total disregard of international legal norms and decent world opinion,” said Surendran, highlighting that the urgency at which clemency petitions are rejected “also raises serious questions as to whether each prisoner’s case was duly considered by the Cabinet and President”.

“In Singapore, the rejection of clemency petition is usually followed soon after by the prisoner’s execution. Hence, it is probable that these prisoners will be executed within weeks from now,” said Surendran.

Citing the names of four Malaysian death row prisoners convicted for drug-related offences — Datchinamurthy a/l Kataiah, Gobi a/l Avedian, Abdul Helmi bin Abdul Halim, and Rahmat — Surendran said that “despite irrefutable evidence that hanging drug mules does not deter drug trafficking syndicates”, Singapore remains adamant on carrying out such executions.

Consequently, Surendran, on behalf of LFL, has urged the Singapore government to put a stay on the “potentially illegal and unconstitutional executions” and to instead “impose a moratorium upon all executions pending a thorough review of all the clemency rejections”.

“We also urge the Malaysian government to make urgent and necessary representations to Singapore on behalf of the 4 Malaysian citizens facing imminent execution,” he added.

Granting clemency not fully contingent on President’s wishes; President likely bound by Cabinet’s advice?

The act of granting clemency upon prisoners on death row in Singapore, however, comes with restrictions — the President, according to the Constitution of the Republic, does not appear to have full and unfettered discretion over the decision to pardon said prisoners.

As seen below under Section 22P(2) of the Constitution, the Cabinet has the power to give advice to the President on how the powers of clemency can and should be exercised, after the Attorney-General had given his opinion on a particular case involving a clemency petition based on judicial reports related to the case:

Section 21(1) of the Constitution similarly — but more broadly — stipulates that the President shall carry out the powers vested within her role “in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet”, which may possibly, in cases involving clemency petitions, refer to the Minister for Law and Home Affairs as an example of a relevant Minister in question:

Surendran, in his LFL statement earlier, reiterated his view regarding Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s previous comments on Malaysian death row prisoners convicted over drug-related offences, which he argued “suggest that Malaysian prisoners are being targeted, and that the government has already decided not to spare any drug offenders from execution”.

“The right of the prisoners to a proper consideration of their clemency petitions has already been jeopardised by the public statements made by Singapore Home Minister K Shanmugam on 24th May 2019.

“Shanmugam had said, “how do we go easy on Malaysians in the face of these statistics”, and “it is simply not doable to keep asking Singapore not to carry out the penalties imposed by the courts”.

“This is illegal, as each clemency petition must be considered upon its individual merits,” Surendran argued.