A lawyer has decided to represent Siti Aslinda Binte Junaidi, a Singaporean woman facing the death penalty in China, on a pro bono basis following a report by CNN on the case.
Ms Aslinda was handed down the death sentence for drug trafficking, which entails execution by shooting.
Lawyer M Ravi of Carson Law Chambers said that he is looking forward to “working closely with this dynamic lawyer and to have Aslinda’s case properly reviewed by the Appeal Court in China”.
“This is just the beginning of the fight to save Aslinda. A lot to be done,” he said in a Facebook post on Thursday (24 December).
This episode, said Mr Ravi, also “highlights how the death penalty targets the poor and the disadvantaged who can’t afford legal fees”.
“It is so expensive to hire a lawyer in China. Some of them asked (for) ridiculous fees,” he added.
Mr Ravi was quoted in the CNN report as saying that attempting to get a pro bono lawyer for Ms Aslinda in China has been a very challenging feat.
Noting that Ms Aslinda’s family is not able to afford to pay for her legal representation, Mr Ravi told CNN: “I’ve been trying to liaise with some international networks I have to get a pro bono lawyer, but her case is (moving forward) and we don’t know when it might reach the next court.”
Citing Amnesty International and the Dui Hua Foundation, CNN noted that as the world’s leading executioner, China is believed to have carried out thousands of executions to date, with most taking the form of shooting or lethal injection.
China’s execution of foreigners, it added, may appear to be tied to political events.
Last year, Canadian national Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who originally received a 15-year prison sentence, later had his sentence upgraded to the death penalty for drug smuggling.
The change in sentencing was believed to have followed the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in the Canadian city of Vancouver.
In August this year, two more Canadians — Xu Weihong and Ye Jianhui — were also sentenced to death for drug offences.
Frosty relations between Canberra and Beijing, CNN reported, may have also led to Australian Cam Gillespie receiving the death penalty.
Mr Ravi told CNN: “It all depends on diplomatic persuasion.”
“Singapore is quite close to China, but I’ve been trying to reach out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they’ve not been very helpful. They should at least meet up with us to ask what they can do, it’s very frustrating,” he added.
Previously on 14 December, Mr Ravi said that he has made “frantic efforts” to secure legal representation for Ms Aslinda with the assistance of Lyndon Lee, his colleague in China.
In a copy of a legal notice addressed to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) shared by Mr Ravi on 14 December, Carson Law Chambers stated that Ms Aslinda is “currently waiting for her case to be reviewed for appeal by the Guangdong High Court”.
In their letter to MFA, Carson Law Chambers sought — among other details — information such as the date of the first verdict before Ms Aslinda’s appeal, reasons as to why the verdict was only given after six years, the purpose of the monthly S$100 given to Ms Aslinda for the past six years, and particulars regarding any actions the Ministry has taken regarding the matter.
Earlier on 11 December, Mr Ravi disclosed how he had received instructions from Ms Aslinda’s sister, Siti Rasnah, regarding the case.
Mr Ravi said that Ms Siti had reached out to him about her 35-year-old sister who was sentenced to death for drug trafficking despite allegedly not carrying any drugs on her.
According to Mr Ravi’s narration, it was Ms Aslinda’s boyfriend who allegedly possessed the drugs when they both landed in Shenzhen, China.
Mr Ravi said that according to Ms Siti, MFA has not seen Ms Aslinda for about a year. On top of that, no lawyer had reportedly been engaged to defend Ms Aslinda in the past five years since her arrest.
Ms Siti also told Mr Ravi that she was told she could not see her sister in the Chinese prison.
Ms Aslinda’s daughter, Ismiraldha Abdullah, told CNN that the family’s letters seem to be monitored, as sometimes they do not get through.
Ms Ismiraldha said that in a recent letter, her mother said that consular officials have not been unable to visit her for almost a year, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time its article was published, CNN noted that MFA did not respond to its query regarding Ms Aslinda’s case.
MFA “aware of the case”, has been rendering regular support to Aslinda
In a statement on Friday (25 December), MFA said that it is “aware of the case”.
The Singapore Consulate-General in Guangzhou, said MFA, has been rendering consular assistance to Ms Aslinda and Mohd Yusri Bin Mohd Yussof — another Singaporean similarly found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to death alongside her — since their arrest.
Mr Mohd Yusri — who was introduced by Ms Aslinda to one Chibuzor Onwuka who had offered her large commissions to transport goods from China to Cambodia — had done two such trips with her, CNN reported, citing court documents.
The Singaporean man’s death sentence, however, was suspended for two years — this could mean that the death sentence may be downgraded to life imprisonment.
MFA in its statement today said that the assistance given to the two Singaporeans included “visiting them regularly until the COVID-19 outbreak this year and ensuring that they have, in accordance with their legal rights, access to necessary medical attention and appropriate legal assistance”.
“MFA has also been in contact with their families to provide consular support, including as recently as this week,” the Ministry added.
Aslinda’s daughter “curious” about lack of criminal investigation by authorities throughout six years despite tip-offs from her mother
Responding to TOC’s query on whether she is aware of any help rendered by MFA to her family, Ms Ismiraldha said via text on Friday night that the consulate “have been visiting my mum 3-4 times a year”.
The Ministry, she said, has also assisted her in transferring funds to Ms Aslinda and forwarding Ms Aslinda’s written letters via physical mail or email.
Ms Ismiraldha recalled that when Ms Aslinda was arrested and detained — the former was only 12 years old at the time — she was told by her aunt that MFA offered their family “some lawyers in China that we can hire for my mum”.
“However, my family couldn’t afford due to the very high cost,” Ms Ismiraldha told TOC. “My aunt got worried as she was told that even if we hire a lawyer, we would not be able to travel to China to visit my mum.”
“Since then, my aunt waited for updates regarding my mum’s sentence during these six years,” she said.
Ms Ismiraldha also told TOC that she is “curious” about how no criminal investigation was carried out throughout the six years by the authorities despite tip-offs from Ms Aslinda.
Her mother and Mr Mohd Yusri, she said, had told the judge the names and mobile numbers of the individuals connected to their case.
“Also, with the power of social media, I can easily find their pictures, their siblings and the place where they are living,” she added.