Singapore Executes Second Man For 1.5kgs Of Cannabis

Asian man smoking cannabis Singapore
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Singapore has executed a second man in three weeks for cannabis trafficking, inviting the ire of human rights activists across the world.

There are countries across the world that are changing their attitude towards marijuana and drug use. However, the same can’t be said of Singapore. On Wednesday, the city-state hanged a man for trafficking drugs, the second such incident in a short span of three weeks.

The action comes even as international groups and activists within the country decry the strict death penalty. The United Nations, British mogul Richard Branson, have urged Singapore to halt executions for drug-related offenses as increasing evidence shows the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent. But Singapore authorities insist that all prisoners get due process of law and that capital punishment remains “part of Singapore’s comprehensive harm prevention strategy which targets both drug demand and supply.”

Here’s a look at how strict are Singapore’s laws on drug offences and where it stands compared to other countries.

Singapore, death penalty & drug offences
On Wednesday, Singapore hanged a 36-year-old man at Changi Prison on the island’s east coast at dawn after a last-minute attempt to reopen his case was rejected by the appeal court without a hearing.

The man, whose name was not revealed, was convicted in 2019 of trafficking about 1.5 kilogrammes of cannabis, according to Kokila Annamalai of the Transformative Justice Collective that campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty in Singapore.

In a statement, the Singapore authorities said, “A 36-year-old Singaporean man had his capital sentence carried out today at Changi Prison Complex. The person was accorded full due process under the law, and had access to legal counsel throughout the process.”

This was the second execution carried out by Singapore in three weeks’ time. Earlier, on 26 April, Singapore hanged a 46-year-old Indian-origin for conspiracy to smuggle one kilo cannabis. It was found that Tangaraju Suppiah was involved in a conspiracy to traffic the cannabis from Malaysia to Singapore. The court found he was in phone communication with two other men caught trying to smuggle cannabis into Singapore.

Suppiah’s family and rights groups took up his cause rejecting the government’s claims of justice being accorded and detailed why they believed his death sentence conviction was unsafe. “Tangaraju’s conviction relied mainly on statements from his police interrogation – taken without a lawyer and interpreter present – and the testimony of his two co-accused, one of which had his charges dismissed,” Amnesty International said.

Leelavathy spoke of her brother’s anguish and determination before his death sentence was carried out. “Even from inside prison, he wanted to fight for his innocence,” she told CNN. “He believed that there would be a fair trial and wanted to prove his innocence – every step of the way.”

Suppiah’s execution attracted a lot of criticism from around the world. The UN strongly condemned the hangings in April this year, calling the number of such punishments “highly alarming”.

Singapore’s strict laws relating to drug offences have come under the spotlight recently. The city-state executed 11 people last year for drug offences after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authorities argue that such strict laws are necessary due to its proximity to the Golden Triangle — the area comprising parts of Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, historically known for the narcotics trade. “As a key commercial and transport hub, Singapore is vulnerable to the scourge of drugs, both as a transit point and as an import market for illicit drugs,” says the background document provided to TIME magazine by the Singapore government.

Countries with strictest drug laws
However, Singapore is not alone in having harsh punishments for drug-related crimes. A report by Harm Reduction International (HRI) reveals that it is one of just 35 countries that maintain the death penalty for drug offences and one of only eight in the world to regularly hand out such a sentence.

The report reveals that in 2022 there were at least 285 executions for drugs, more than double the number of the previous year, when at least 131 people were executed. The number of death sentences handed out to those found guilty of drug crimes also rose, the report said, with at least 303 people in 18 countries sentenced to death. That was 28 per cent more than in 2021. More than 3,700 people on death row around the world are now there as a result of drug offences, it added.

So, which countries join Singapore? Singapore’s neighbour Malaysia has similar rules when it comes to drug-related crimes. In Malaysia if you are caught with more than 15 grams of heroin, you can receive a death sentence. Additionally, authorities can also detain anyone for up to two weeks on suspicion of drug use and forcibly test them for any traces of illegal drugs in their system. Those who test positive are automatically sentenced to a minimum of one year of compulsory treatment, even if they’re not caught with any drugs on them at the time.

Indonesia is another South-east Asian nation with very strict rules. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of any illegal drugs are serious offences in Indonesia. The Indonesian authorities have a zero-tolerance policy and those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty. HRI revealed that the country had sentenced 122 people to death last year, a jump from the 89 in the preceding year.

China too has very strict laws on drugs. In accordance with Chinese drug laws, anyone caught trying to smuggle a kilo or more of heroin into the country could face the death penalty. And the same fate could befall anyone found carrying more than 50 grams of other narcotics, including cocaine, opium, and cannabis.

Japan is another Asian nation which has some of the strictest drug laws. The country also has strict controls on prescription drugs and requires travellers to declare any medication they are bringing into the country.

The small, oil-rich nation of Brunei has come under fire for using caning as a punishment for drug offences. Possession of drugs can result in long-term prison sentences and even the death penalty.

Outside of Asia, Iran, perhaps, has the strictest laws when it comes to drug offences. The HRI report revealed that the nation had executed at least 252 people last year for drug-related crimes. Despite the high rate of executions and strict laws, Iran continues to have a problem of drug addiction in the country. In 2016, the country had a reported two million addicts. Experts state that its proximity to Afghanistan where opium is grown is one of the reasons for the high rate of addiction in Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, the situation is no different. The country has a zero-tolerance policy towards drug use, and offences such as possession and trafficking are punishable by jail time, public flogging, and in some cases, the death penalty. In November last year, the Kingdom had executed two Pakistani nationals for drug-related crimes, a first since it had announced a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drug-related crimes in January 2021. Amnesty International condemned the executions then and said, “The lives of individuals on death row for drug-related crimes and other crimes are at risk. Regardless of the crimes committed, no one should suffer this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

The United Arab Emirates also has strict laws when it comes to drugs. The purchase, possession, consumption, and distribution of drugs are strictly prohibited. In 2022, the UAE eased some of its harsh drug laws, relaxing penalties for travellers who arrive in the country with products containing THC – the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis. The amended law stated that people found carrying food, drinks or other items containing THC would no longer face prison, but would have the substance confiscated, and will at most face a fine. The law also reduced minimum sentences from two years to three months for first-time drug offenders.

Experts speak
Many drug addiction experts believe that countries with tough laws on drugs won’t help the situation. As Singapore’s Kokila Annamalai, a cofounder of the Transformative Justice Collective, told TIME, “Thousands of grams of drugs are seized every week in Singapore. There is no evidence that the supply has gone down.”

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” – for the purposes of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – and therefore is in breach of international human rights law. The United Nations General Assembly, and the secretary-general, have also echoed that stance.

Richard Branson, the billionaire and founder of Virgin Group, has also spoken out on the issue. “Killing people for allegedly smuggling cannabis is particularly cruel and misguided, given that more countries are now introducing sensible drug policy by decriminalising and regulating both medicinal and recreational cannabis,” he said.