Nguyen Tuong Van the drug trafficker of Australian origin was finally hanged on dawn on friday. Despites countless of pleas from the Australian government, Singapore went ahead with the capital punishment and Nguyen was given a teary farewell. Indeed, the issue on the death penalty has created quite a stir in the recent weeks and many people in and out of this country have been examining the issues regarding Singapore's mandatory death sentence.
Printed in bold on the immigration card upon arrival to our sunny shores is the warning that anyone caught trying to traffic drugs in Singapore is sentenced to death. Yet this warning which is bigger than those warning "Smoking kills" on the cigarette boxes has gone unnoticed. Just like the thousands that continue to puff away on the cancer sticks here, people are still trying to traffic drugs in Singapore.
As a deterrant, Singapore government has had this law for 30 years to warn people that Singapore frowns very deeply upon drugs. Yet, drugs are still taken here and people are still caught for drug possession and drug consumption.
Thus, this leads me to examine whether Singapore is really successful in deterring people from trafficking drugs here. Despite strong laws that punish anyone who trys their hands in drugs, I believe there are still a few on the death row waiting of their turn to be hanged for drug related offences.
Singapore has set out laws in the country that is very much different from the others. In Singapore, the legislation sets the laws and the courts carry them out in the context of various cases. For normal cases, the judges have the power of deciding the sentencing. However for capital punishments, the judges don't really have a choice because once evidence points that someone is guity of that offence, it is mandatory that he is hanged.
Take Ngyuen's case as an example. After convicted of trafficking drugs, the judge wishes him well in his next life and sentence him to hang. No matter how much mitigation he has or how remorseful he is, it adds no weight to his sentence. That is because, the Singapore government has stated very clearly that drug trafficking is punished by death.
Even if the judge is a compassionate man and wanted to give him life instead, he can't because death sentence is mandatory for drug trafficking.
Which leads me to asking, is this really necessary? Should a country hang someone without regard for other factors and only on the basis of his crime alone?
I mean, if the guy shows no remorse for his crime and is hell bent on turning bad, the country would have reason for hanging him. But what if he shows plenty of remorse, understand that he made a grave error and he wants to turn over a new leaf?
Should the country go on and hang him?
This question is of course very hard to answer. Who can tell if the accuse is really remorseful or just putting up an act to get away with the death sentence? Singapore wants to quell all subjectivity and thus implemented the mandatory death sentence.
However, this leaves no room at all for rehabiltion of the convict. Instead of teaching him the evils of drugs and turning him from a drug trafficker to probably a volunteer to counsel future druggies, he is hanged. This prevents any trafficker from living to tell his tale and perhaps reforming other druggies not to follow his path.
I feel there should be room for rehabilation as this would be a better deterrant for future drug traffickers. If the prison successfully reforms the convict, the convict can go on out and tell whoever he meets that drug trafficking is bad and should be avoided at all cause.
Often, drug traffickers are left with no choice but to carry out this deed and if alternatives can be found to solve thier problems, they would not need to carry on trafficking drugs. And if these reformed convicts can actually go out to reach out to this potential drug traffickers and inform them of alternatives, drug trafficking numbers could also be brought down.
That is why I am not advocating for the complete abolishing of death penalty for drug traffickers. I just want more flexibility in the law for consideration to each case. An unremorseful and famous druglord deserves the hang but not some victim of circumstance that at the rash moment of folly made the choice of going down the wrong path.
So if judges in Singapore courts are allowed this room, We can trust that they are capable enough in discerning who should go for the gallows and who are ripe for rehabilition. Just as the judges are trusted in any other cases to make a sound judgement, they should too be trusted to decide who should be hang and who should not.
In the light of recent campaigns to push for a second chance for ex convicts through the yellow ribbon project, more should be done for convicts on the death row too. A country that is flexible and open to giving people second chances in life is a country where society is matured enough to embrace first world status. Singapore has pride itself as being a first world country where it's people are of up most importance to it's existance. A death penalty that is not mandatory but instead flexible for capital cases would go a long way in showing the world that Singapore is indeed a developed country.