Abolitionist groups respond to Minister Shanmugam's speech on death penalty

Abolitionist groups respond to Minister Shanmugam's speech on death penalty

Shanmugam file
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. (File photo: TODAY)

SINGAPORE: Six abolitionist groups who have campaigned against the death penalty issued a joint response on Monday (Oct 30) to comments made by Singapore Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam during his speech at the Asia Pacific Forum Against Drugs on Oct 26.

The statement said the minister made "misleading claims" about abolitionists in Singapore and that the group wanted to clarify the comments.

The joint response was signed and endorsed by Community Action Network, Function 8, Maruah, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, Think Centre and We Believe in Second Chances.

In it, the groups clarified that they "have not and do not call for the legalisation of drugs".

"There is a range of opinions and perspectives on the issue of drug policy among members of the abolitionist campaign," the statement said.

The groups agreed, however, that "the problem of drug abuse - which, according to government data, has risen overall between 2003–2016 - is of concern and should be addressed in holistic ways."

They called for all data related to the use of the death penalty, as well as studies and evidence behind the minister's claims to be made "publicly accessible".

"We are particularly interested in the evidence behind claims that the death penalty 'substantially reduces the number of people who seek to traffic drugs into Singapore', as well as the Minister’s sources of information when he says that things have 'worsened' or 'gone wrong' in contexts where different models of dealing with drugs have been adopted," the statement added.


The groups also took issue with "references" in Mr Shanmugam's speech, calling it a "mischaracterisation".

"In his speech, Mr Shanmugam made references to 'romanticising individuals who have been involved in the drug trade' and telling 'romantic stories' about those who have been convicted of drug trafficking."

The groups said telling the stories of "death row inmates, their families and the human experience of the death penalty" was not an act of "romanticising". 

They argued that these accounts were "critical contributions" to open conversations that were needed.

They added that they hoped the minister and the Government will "make public the research and data" for their conclusions about the death penalty in Singapore, so that "all Singaporeans will be able to the study the issue."

During his speech at the Asia Pacific Forum on Drugs, Minister Shanmugam said the death penalty for drug traffickers is “not the solution that solves all the problems”, and that it is part of Singapore’s total anti-drug framework that also includes rehabilitating abusers.

“I have said repeatedly, (we) do not take any joy or comfort in having the death penalty, and nobody hopes or wants to have it imposed,” he added. “We do it reluctantly, on the basis that it is for the greater good of society … it saves more lives. That is the rationale on which we have it,” Mr Shanmugam said.

Citing Colorado in the United States as an example of where legalisation of drugs has “gone wrong”, the minister called on death penalty abolitionists to "go and study the places where laws have been relaxed, places where drugs have been legalised, find out what has happened and look at the number of deaths that have taken place in society, and then come back and let’s talk.”

In Singapore, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that some have been trying to sway public opinion of the death penalty by “romanticising individuals who have been involved in the drug tradewithout focusing on the larger problem”.

“What they do not focus on are the thousands of people whose lives are ruined, whose families are ruined,” he said, adding that the Singapore Government and agencies are “happy and prepared” to debate the issue with the death penalty abolitionists at any forum.

Source: CNA/mn