Hanging moratorium broken, a new hard-line stance on drugs?

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The lives of two men were cut short as their necks snapped in the early hours of July 18 in the hope that more lives can be saved from drug addiction. This has sparked another round of debate on whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent in preventing drug trafficking and related crimes.

Anti-death penalty activists think that it does not and there is a deafening silence from those who support the death penalty.

Two Singaporeans, Tang Hai Liang, 36, and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had their death sentences carried out at Changi Prison Complex for drug related offences. They did not appeal for clemency.

This comes after a moratorium was put in place since July 2011, when the government commenced an internal review of the mandatory death penalty laws. A review took place without any public consultation nor was it made available for public scrutiny and the changes were passed by Parliament in the exact form proposed by the government in July 2012.

Civil society members warned about the potential problems associated with the lack of transparency in this process.

There is also an ongoing application filed by another drug offender before the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act as it violates Article 12 of our Constitution. The hearing is fixed before the Court of Appeal on Aug 18.

In a joint statement, anti-death penalty activists said that “the constitutional challenge to the amendments could have a potential bearing on the lawfulness of Foong and Tang’s executions; it was deeply unjust to have executed them before the constitutional challenge was decided.”

“The executions are a regrettable step backwards for Singapore,” say the activists. “The death penalty has not been proven to be a more useful deterrent against crime than alternative forms of punishment. Moreover, once carried out, miscarriages of justice cannot be remedied.”

However, it seems the government is not going to let up. In fact, it seems to be taking a harder stand on drug related offences and will lead a new anti-drug conference for Asian cities in August next year. Our government is promoting a zero tolerance stance towards drugs.

Victor Lye, chairman of the National Council Against Drug Abuse, was quoted as saying that they hope to gather like-minded governments to target “sophisticated and well organized commercial interests.”

Law Minister K Shanmugam has always argued that the death penalty is an effective deterrent and that we need punitive laws to keep our country and streets safe. But he has not spoken on this initiative yet.

It is clear that the hardliners have won this round and one thing for sure; the work has been cut out for our anti-death penalty activists.