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No doubts that death penalty is the right policy for drug trafficking: Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam was asked about Singapore's approach towards drugs and the death penalty on the BBC's HARDtalk programme.

No doubts that death penalty is the right policy for drug trafficking: Shanmugam

File photo of one of Changi Prison's turrets. (Photo: Singapore Prison Service)

SINGAPORE: Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday (Jun 29) he does not have any doubts that the death penalty is the right policy for drug trafficking in Singapore.

Additionally, he said, there is "clear evidence" that capital punishment is a serious deterrent.

Mr Shanmugam made the remarks in an interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for the programme HARDtalk, in which he was asked about Singapore's approach towards drugs and the death penalty.

The programme aired on Wednesday, and also touched on the topics of race and geopolitics.

During the interview, Mr Sackur said that Singapore is very "well known around the world" for its "draconian criminal code".

"Particularly when it comes to drugs, narcotics and the bringing of drugs into Singapore – you have a mandatory death penalty for that particular crime. Do you have any doubts at all, that that is the right policy?" he asked Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam responded saying that "I don’t have any doubts", and that capital punishment is one aspect of “a whole series of measures” that Singapore has in place to tackle drug abuse.

"It's imposed on drug traffickers, and it's imposed because there's clear evidence that it is a serious deterrent for would-be drug traffickers,” said Mr Shanmugam.


Mr Shanmugam cited several statistics on the “devastating impact of drugs worldwide” - such as a World Health Organization report from 2021 that about 500,000 deaths were linked to drug abuse a year.

Drug traffickers damage the lives of drug users, and leave their families “damaged, often seriously destroyed”, said Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about the high-profile case involving convicted drug trafficker Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who was executed in April after 12 years on death row.

Nagaenthran was sentenced to death in 2010 for importing 42.72g of heroin into Singapore in 2009 in a bundle strapped to his thigh.

“He has an IQ of 69. Medical experts say that represents intellectual disability, and after more than a decade on death row, you hanged him. Does that seem proportionate and compassionate to you?” asked Mr Sackur.

Mr Shanmugam rebutted: “You’ve got your facts wrong.

“The Courts found that he had the working of a criminal mind, and he made a deliberate, purposeful, calibrated, calculated decision to make money, to bring the drugs in,” said Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam added that the psychiatrist called by the defence had also agreed and confirmed that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.

Mr Shanmugam then drew attention to how the United States had executed two men, whose lawyers had also argued that they were intellectually disabled, around the same time that Nagaenthran’s final appeal was dismissed.

"My point to you is – what's the difference between Mr Nagaenthran and the two persons executed in the US in October 2021, in terms of IQ?"

Mr Sackur responded by asking if Mr Shanmugam should hold himself to “a universally high standard", adding that it was "no good pointing to other countries which may have their own flaws".

Mr Shanmugam reiterated that Nagaenthran had brought in drugs to make money, and had the “workings of a criminal mind”.

“His own psychiatrist confirmed that he was not intellectually disabled,” said Mr Shanmugam.


Mr Shanmugam also said that Singapore’s approach towards drugs and the death penalty should be looked at in the context of “saving lives”.

“In the 1990s, we were arresting about 6,000 people per year. 30 years later today, there are more drugs around the region,” he said.

“We are a logistics centre. We would be completely swamped. The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) said that this place is swimming in meth and a record haul of one billion meth tablets were seized in Southeast Asia. We are in that situation.”

During the interview, Mr Shanmugam confirmed that Singapore currently has about 60 people on death row, the majority of whom are linked to drug offences.

But he added: “(We) have also saved thousands of lives. Because we are now arresting about 3,000 people per year.”

Mr Sackur subsequently quoted the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network as saying that Singapore’s international reputation had “deteriorated significantly” as a result of issues such as the execution of Nagaenthran.

“Are you prepared to see your state's reputation sink because of the draconian decisions you insist on making?” asked Mr Sackur.

Mr Shanmugam responded: “I think the key thing is the lives of Singaporeans and protecting Singaporeans.”

He also noted the BBC’s coverage on this case, saying it ran four articles from October last year to March this year.

“But you haven't run any article on what the UNODC talked about the severe situation in Southeast Asia. And what about the thousands of lives that are at stake from drug trafficking?”

“I think the media reporting and all the things that you've quoted, make this point: That … a single hanging of a drug trafficker is a tragedy; a million deaths from drug abuse is a statistic. I think that's what this shows.”

Source: CNA/cl(aj)


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