Before you start reading this posting, I had better tell you that what I am about to discuss, is an issue which will have virtually no impact on your lives, your livelihood, your choices, your lifestyle or your pocket. It is a matter which only affects …maybe 20 people? … in a year, some of those affected will not even be Singaporeans.
But for those who are affected, it is quite literally a matter of life and death. What we Singaporeans think and say about this issue, will make a difference to whether someone lives … or dies. I am talking about the use of the death sentence in Singapore. For certain crimes like murder and drug trafficking, the death sentence is mandatory, meaning that the judge has no power to change the death sentence to life imprisonment in deserving cases. They must hang.
Don’t get me wrong, I want a safe and secure Singapore. I want a low crime and drug-free society where I can raise my kids and walk around in freedom.
We have been told that Singapore’s low crime rate is due to our tough laws, including our willingness to impose the ultimate penalty of death.
We have been told that the mandatory death penalty for murder and drug trafficking has been an effective deterrent against would-be murders and drug traffickers.Sparing the lives of convicted murders and drug traffickers, would signal that we have gone soft. Going soft will put our families and loved ones in danger of crime.
And we have been told that a Singapore Press Holdings survey conducted in 2006, indicated that a large majority of Singaporeans are in support of the death penalty, and thus, the death penalty is the will of the majority.
If it were really so straightforward that “death penalty means low crime”and “no death penalty means high crime”, then of course, we should and must retain the death penalty, and to oppose those idealists who seek to abolish it. Why should I risk the safety and well-being of my family for the sake of a worthless criminal who should have known better?
But is it really as simple as “death penalty means low crime”?
· Why do people kill?
· Why do people agree to be drug mules?
· Does the death penalty really deter murder or it is to exact revenge, as in “life for a life”?
· Will murders and drug trafficking be more rampant if Judges were given power to change the death sentence to life imprisonment in deserving cases?
· What are other effective ways to reduce crime?
· What are other ways of keeping down crime besides the death penalty?
I am glad to see that today in Singapore 2011, we are more discerning and a lot more sophisticated. Decades of emphasizing the value of a good education has produced a generation of new Singaporeans who ask for the facts and figures behind claims and statements.
In the old days, whenthere was no Internet, it was harder to double check statements and not easy to find alternative views to a proposal. Today is the age of information technology. The new generation Singaporeans are better educated, well-travelled and well-informed.
Today, we do not accept propositions at face value. If someone tells us, “eating durians causes baldness” we will automatically retort: “How so? Who said that? What are his credentials? Where are the surveys, scientific studies or research showing the correlation between eating durians and baldness?”
We don’t let people get away with saying something, without providing hard evidence for what is being said.
So if we cannot see the evidence that the death penalty for a particular crime has served its role as an effective deterrent to that crime, then I am afraid to say, that such a proposition is a belief which is at best a hypothesis and at worse a myth!
Now surely no one will be party to taking away a person’s life on the strength of anunsupported hypothesis or a personal belief?
When it comes to the issue of death penalty, the stakes cannot be any higher. A person’s life is to be taken from him. The sting of the death sentence is after all based on the fact that the wrongdoer highly values his own life. If it were not so, then it would not mean much to take it away!
When it is a matter of life and death, surely we need to call for convincing evidence proving the deterrent effect of the death penalty, so as to justify using such a drastic measure. Surely it is only right that we think long and hard about whether or not to use the death sentence.
We have been told: Look at Singapore’s low rate of drug abuse – that is evidence that mandatory death penalty has been an effective deterrent against drug trafficking. I am thankful that Singapore’s drug problem is well under control. But aren’t there also other factors which contribute to Singapore’s successful fight against drug abuse? Factors like a well-organized police force, well-trained investigation officers, a well-equipped central narcotic bureau and a comprehensive anti-drug abuse education program – don’t all these also help in the fight against drug abuse?Will Singapore’s fight against drug abuse be seriously hampered without the mandatory death penalty?
The mandatory death penalty for murder has been with us since the colonial days. We have had the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking since 1975. Today is 2011. We have at least 40 years of data on state executions. It is time to take stock and review in detail all the statistics on state executions to date. The public should also be involved in this extensive review. The results of the review should be published for the public to digest and to ask questions about the findings. After all, it is has been said that the death penalty is the will of the majority of Singaporeans. So Singaporeans should be informed.
The public has the right to see the studies, statistics or research published by officials which support their claim that the mandatory death penalty has been an effective deterrent against drug trafficking. The burden of proof must rest on those seeking to retain the mandatory death penalty.
In the absence of such evidence, then we Singaporeans must conclude that it is not necessary to resort to using the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. In which case, we should seriously consider changing the law to give judges the power to convert the death sentence to life imprisonment in deserving cases.
There is also the question whether it is even necessary to retain the death penalty at all. Again, without convincing documentary evidence that the death sentence has more of a deterrent effect than a life sentence for drug trafficking, then it is only right that we do away with the death sentence altogether.
A person’s life, even the life of a drug trafficker who should have known better, is too high a price to pay for an opinion not supported by enough evidence.