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Singapore to Relax Mandatory Death Penalty Law

Police guarding an avenue in Singapore, June 4, 2010
Police guarding an avenue in Singapore, June 4, 2010
JAKARTA — The island state Singapore has taken steps to relax its strict death penalty laws following discussion in the country’s parliament this week. Human Rights groups have welcomed the move and are hopeful the proposed changes will encourage neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, to revise their mandatory death penalty laws too.

There is no denying that Singapore has impressively low crime rates, is incredibly efficient and is immaculately clean. But it has also been dubbed a ‘police state’ by those critical of its harsh laws. Under the proposed changes to the country’s death penalty laws, it is a reputation the government has moved to counter this week.
Subject to specific guidelines, drug traffickers and murderers will no longer face a mandatory death sentence.

Courts will be granted the discretion to decide whether small-time players such as drug couriers should be executed. And, in murder cases, the mandatory death penalty will only apply when there is a proven intention to kill.

Singapore Law Minister K Shanmugam addressed parliament on the changes, this week. “This change will ensure that our sentencing framework properly balances the various objectives - justice to the victim, justice to society and mercy in appropriate cases,” he stated.

The changes are seen as a response to social pressure to create a more progressive Singapore.

Jan Wetzel, an advisor on the death penalty to Amnesty International, says the proposed changes are a major step forward for the region and in line with current views on mandatory death penalties.

“I think it would be another sign of the mandatory death penalty on the way out. Again, we have to be cautious because the proposals do not get rid of the mandatory death penalty in Singapore, as such," Wetzel noted. "According to the proposals, the death penalty will stay in place for particular kinds of murder and for what they call high-level drug dealing... But it is a sign they are on the way out.”

The draft regulation could be implemented later this year and will also apply to the 35 people currently on death row.

Across the region, mandatory death sentences are imposed for possession of a certain amount of drugs in Malaysia, Pakistan and North Korea.

In Singapore, convicted murderers and drug traffickers are sentenced to death by hanging.