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Government must 'do right' by Singaporeans by keeping death penalty: Shanmugam

In an interview with Bloomberg, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam was asked about what it would take for Singapore to review its stance on the death penalty.

Government must 'do right' by Singaporeans by keeping death penalty: Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam speaks to the media on May 23, 2022. (Photo: Kenneth Lee)

SINGAPORE: The Government has to act in the best interest of society by keeping the death penalty, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday (Sep 14), reiterating that its deterrent effect against drug trafficking saves thousands of lives.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking in an interview with Bloomberg and was asked what it would take for Singapore to review its stance on the death penalty.

The minister replied that more than 65 per cent of Singaporeans support the mandatory death penalty as of last year.

"But … what's the task of the Government? It is to do right by Singaporeans, what's in the best interest of society. If we believe, and we do, that the death penalty, in fact, saves thousands of lives, because of its deterrent effect," he said.

"And I can show you examples from all the other countries which don't have the death penalty, and lacks enforcement on drug policy, thousands more people die."

According to Amnesty International, Singapore has executed five people so far this year for drug trafficking, with the courts in recent months dismissing eleventh-hour appeals from death row inmates.

In June, Mr Shanmugam told the BBC he had no doubts the death penalty is the right policy for drug trafficking, again pointing to "'clear evidence" of a serious deterrent for would-be traffickers.

Addressing talk about a "groundswell" against Singapore's death penalty, through activists, news reports and prominent people like British entrepreneur Richard Branson, Mr Shanmugam pointed to an anti-death penalty protest at Hong Lim Park in April.

Organisers said more than 400 people turned up, but Mr Shanmugam believes these numbers are usually "exaggerated".

"Now, therefore, if we believe that it is the best interest of society, Singapore, and if the vast majority of Singaporeans support it, as they do, then do you want us to change policy because four newspapers write about it, talking to the same three activists and quoting the same three activists?" he asked.

"And I'm not saying these are precise numbers, but I'm giving you the picture. So, the government policy, if 400 people plus three newspaper articles can change government policy, or if Mr Richard Branson can change government policy, then Singapore would not be where it is today."

Mr Shanmugam also touched on Thailand's legalisation of cannabis and similar plans by Malaysia for medical marijuana, saying the increased availability of drugs will create more challenges for Singapore.

"But by and large, a vast majority of Singaporeans understand that drugs are bad, drugs are bad for society," he said on Wednesday.

"There is a small group that thinks that it ought to be legalised. And because of the portrayal in popular media, younger people, not the majority, they tend to have a slightly different view of cannabis and these are all challenges we have to deal with."

When asked if this means authorities will look into tighter regulations and "closer surveillance" of those coming in from countries like Thailand and Malaysia, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's regulations are "adequate".

"But the laws, the amount, the kind of evidence that is needed, the assumptions or presumptions that apply, the inferences the courts can draw, these are technical matters, and they are constantly reviewed," he said.

"And, you know, we have amended the law a number of times and we will amend it as we see necessary."

REPEAL OF 377A AND CANCEL CULTURE

In the interview with Bloomberg, Mr Shanmugam was also asked about Singapore's decision to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, and whether it is the first step to marriage equality.

Mr Shanmugam said the Government has a duty to lead and understand the people’s wishes, stressing that it is amending the Constitution to make it clear that any debate on what a marriage is will be held in Parliament and not through the courts.

The law currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman, he said, calling it a policy that the Government does not intend to change.

Religious groups have opposed the move to repeal Section 377A, with some expressing concerns that they could be attacked for their views against LGBTQ and marriage equality.

Mr Shanmugam said people should be encouraged to express their viewpoints on all sides, as long as it is not offensive and does not descend to hate speech.

This is why the Government is concerned about cancel culture, not just in the context of 377A but on a wide variety of issues, he said.

"The people’s freedom to express their views is curtailed in real life, in the physical world. We won’t allow five people to gang up and beat you up. That’s against the law," he said.

"It seems to be possible and happens in a virtual sense, on the Internet. And we need to find the right balance between free speech and aggressive attacking of others to curtail their free speech."

Mr Shanmugam said the Government has been studying these questions for some time, and that it is something that could be put into legislation if the right solution is found.

"In fact, religious groups talk to us, but also LGBT groups have talked to us and they are being attacked. Religious groups, in particular, feel very put upon, because they feel that whenever they express their views, they are attacked as homophobes," he said.

"So, there is a line between expressing your view on religion, and becoming homophobic or engaging in hate speech against LGBT groups. And we've got to agree on, you know, these sorts of lines. So, we will have to involve people from the different sectors, get their viewpoints."

Source: CNA/hz(gs)

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