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International outrage after cannabis execution in Singapore

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Singapore has just executed a man for using cannabis for just one kilogram. Even worse, the trial appears to have fallen short of basic standards of fairness. The outrage comes as neighboring Malaysia finally sticks to its pledges to curb the use of the death penalty – five years after a global outcry when a sympathetic caregiver was sentenced to death by hanging for supplying cannabis oil. Despite the quasi-criminalization in Thailand, Southeast Asia remains one of the most repressive regions on earth where weed is concerned.

The Southeast Asian city of Singapore has a reputation for puritanical intolerance as well as its paradoxical cosmopolitanism. An outrageous example made global headlines at least last week – when a man was executed for cannabis.

Hang out for a kilo – never touched it

Tangaraju Suppiah46 years old, was hanging April 26 in Changi Prison in the island nation –on protests from local and international human rights groups. They charged that the case against Sobia was illegal, in addition to the absurdly severe punishment. For starters, not only was the amount involved (just over one kilogram), but it wasn’t even found on his person. Sobia was charged with “conspiring to transport” the shipment from neighboring Malaysia after two phone numbers of a delivery worker were traced. He was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2018.

Subsequently, Suppiah was part of the Indian minority in Singapore, and rights groups monitoring the case say he was denied access to an interpreter in his native Tamil language. (Formalities in Singapore are generally in English). He was also denied proper counsel – he had to represent himself in his final appeal, as his family could not afford one. The appeal was not successful. Transformative Justice, a Singaporean anti-death penalty group, said there were “serious problems” with the evidence used to convict Tangaraju, describing it as “Shockingly thin. ”

Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act imposes the death penalty if the amount of cannabis involved is more than 500 grams. using expected Jaundiced languageThe Home Office said the amount owed was “enough to feed the addictions of about 150 users for a week”. Convicted traffickers who could prove they were mere couriers could avoid hanging – but only he had such luck. On the eve of the execution, Sobia’s family made a desperate plea for clemency on social mediaHe called on the public to pressure President Halima Yacoub to intervene in the case. His niece said, “My uncle is a very good man, he had no education or money but he worked hard to take care of us.”

United nations Human Rights Office called for Singapore should “urgently reconsider” the execution. British businessman Richard Branson blogged on his company’s website“Killing people for alleged drug trafficking is particularly cruel and misguided, given that more countries are now implementing a reasonable drug policy by decriminalizing and regulating both medical and recreational cannabis.”

The lecturing scion of the former colonial power of Britain was of course met with easy dismissal. the The Ministry of the Interior responded that Branson’s comments showed a “disrespect” for Singapore’s justice system.

Sobia’s execution was the first carried out by Singapore this year. But 2022 saw 11 hangings in the city-state. He was among those executed last year Another accused of cannabisUmar Yaqub Bamadaj – similarly accused of bringing about a kilogram from Malaysia. His final appeal was rejected by the country’s Supreme Court in October 2021 – again prompting a wave of rebuke from human rights groups. Reggae superstar Ziggy Marley also spoke To tease – to no avail.

Singapore is one of 35 countries and territories around the world that sentence people to death for drug convictions, according to study By UK-based Harm Reduction International.

Initial progress in Malaysia

Singapore’s neighbor Malaysia is also one of those 35 countries – and is just now seeing some small progress towards righting this injustice. On April 11, the Malaysian parliament passed two bills to reform the death penalty, abolishing the mandatory death penalty.

This is a long overdue response to a global activist outcry in October 2018, when a Malaysian man was sentenced to death for supplying medical cannabis oil to epilepsy and cancer patients. The Malaysian government responded to the international protests by pledging to abolish the death penalty. But the brief media spotlight continued, and more than four years passed without any legislative action.

At least in February 2021, the producer of cannabis oil, Muhammad Luqman, will be officially announced He escaped from the gallows After the Federal Court allowed his appeal against the death sentence. However, the court confirmed his conviction under Malaysia’s harsh dangerous drug law and sentenced him to five years in prison on both counts of possession. The terms were in place at one time, which means he still faced five years behind bars. Fortunately, in the following month he reached an agreement with the judicial authorities by which the charge against him was reduced from human trafficking to possession. Thanks to time served for a lesser charge, he was released—but not before suffering the humiliating corporal punishment imposed in such cases: a caning. He was breaking free from physical pain and had bruises from 10 blows with the stick.

The Malaysian parliament did not convene until March 2023 He started looking Singapore death penalty reform bills. Nor did the legislation live up to the government’s initial pledge to abolish the death penalty. Instead, it cancels Is mandatory The death penalty. The Mandatory Death Penalty Abolition Bill abolishes the mandatory death penalty for the 12 crimes it carried out. Judges will still have the option of imposing the death penalty in these cases. It also adds an additional cane clause for those sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.

The review of death sentences and imprisonment for normal life would allow prisoners on death row or life imprisonment to apply for re-sentencing by the federal court within 90 days of the law going into effect. Human rights groups have, of course, objected to the caning ruling. Amnesty International MalaysiaCaning “constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and is therefore prohibited under international law,” said Katerina Yuren Maliov, the site’s director.

When it was two bills Parliament approved it In the past month, rights groups have been only cautiously optimistic. Human Rights Watch noted That the mandatory death penalty had been removed for drug charges in a Similar repair in November 2017. But that has had little effect: 34 of the 38 defendants remain on death row for drug trafficking over the next 18 months, with judges exercising their discretion to impose life sentences in only four cases. (Among the 34 was Muhammad Luqman).

Despite pledges made in 2018, the new law retains the death penalty for drug trafficking charges. More than half of the prisoners on death row in Malaysia are accused of drug-related offences.

“Abolishing the mandatory death penalty brings Malaysia closer to the majority of countries that have completely abolished the death penalty,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Malaysia’s next step should be to end its use of the death penalty entirely and commute the sentences of the 1,300 death row prisoners.”

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia and the Philippines are the only countries that have completely abolished the death penalty. It’s still in place in Thailand — even as the kingdom embraces the cannabis economy, slowly opening up legal space for the cannabis.

Activist pressure mounting

The good news is that in response to the controversy surrounding Muhammad Lukman in 2018, Malaysia announced a moratorium on executions while the government considers policy changes. This moratorium remains in place, and Malaysia has not carried out any executions in the past four years.

Limited, though the progress in Malaysia is, it points to the effectiveness of activist lobbying — even in the most conservative and repressive of nominal democracies.

Even Singapore is seeing increasingly vocal civil opposition to the anti-drug police state. a year ago, hanging For Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a mentally handicapped man who was caught with 43 grams of heroin, It sparked rare public protests In an authoritarian city-state. Pictures released to the media showed young men gathered in a public park holding handwritten signs with slogans such as “No more state violence” and “Don’t kill in our name”.

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