Singapore residents supports death penalty for some crimes, says Minister

Singapore has some of the world's toughest drug laws as most effective deterrent against crime, with over 50 people currently on death row, according to media sources

Published - March 03, 2022 06:15 pm IST - Singapore

A file photo used for representational purpose only.

A file photo used for representational purpose only.

The majority of Singapore residents still support the death penalty to deter serious crimes, even though it is considered a draconian punishment in some of the more liberal countries around the world. Singapore's tough law imposes death penalty on drug traffickers.

But the city state's Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament on March 3, "Majority of Singapore residents support the use of the death penalty and agree that the death penalty deters serious crime." He cited preliminary findings from a survey conducted last year.

Speaking during Home Ministry’s Committee of Supply debate, in response to questions on whether Singaporeans continue to support its use, he cited numbers from the survey report.

“On the question as to whether the mandatory death penalty is appropriate, 81% said it was appropriate for intentional murder, 71% said it was appropriate for firearm offences, 66% said it was appropriate for drug trafficking.

“And more than 80% also believed that the death penalty had deterred the commission of these offences in Singapore,” the Channel News Asia quoted Shanmugam as saying.

While the findings of this survey are still preliminary, Shanmugam said, they were given to him with a "reasonable degree of confidence". The survey will also be made public when finalised, he said.

A survey in 2019, also conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), showed “very strong” support for the death penalty, Shanmugam said.

But younger Singaporeans’ support for capital punishment for drug traffickers was lower than the national average in that survey. The MHA also commissioned a separate study in 2021 on people in regions from where most of Singapore’s arrested drug traffickers originated in recent years. Shanmugam did not say which regions these were, according to the Channel report.

"We wanted to get a sense of what people in these places knew and thought," he said.

This study found that 82% of respondents believed that the death penalty deterred people from committing serious crimes in Singapore, 69% believed the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes as compared to life imprisonment, and 83% believed that the death penalty makes people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore.

“I emphasise this: These are the places from which many of our traffickers have come from,” the Minister said. “You remove the death penalty, that number, 83%, will surely be reduced because there is money to be made.

"It’s a fair assumption to say more people will traffic drugs into Singapore, more drugs will enter into Singapore, there will be more drug abusers in Singapore, and more Singaporean families and individuals will be harmed … It's a stark choice for Singaporeans.” The Minister said he has also given instructions for this study to be made public in a way that would not prejudice Singapore's public and foreign policy interests.

Shanmugam cited a 2018 MHA study that he said found a high level of awareness of the death penalty among convicted drug traffickers, and that it influenced their drug trafficking behaviour.

“One of the traffickers in this study said the following: He knew very clearly that if he were caught for trafficking a small amount, he would just go to jail for trafficking. But if he were caught with a larger amount, he would be at risk of the death penalty,” Shanmugam said.

“And so he trafficked below the threshold amount.” The Minister then reiterated how places that have decriminalised drugs or taken a softer stance on them have fared worse, highlighting figures and videos from U.S. cities such as Baltimore and San Francisco that showed a spiralling drug situation there.

Given those accounts, he said some will argue that Singapore should retain its tough drug laws but remove the death penalty. “My response is this - First of all, I gave you the survey results, removing the death penalty and what impact it will have psychologically.”

"Second, we have never said that the death penalty alone is sufficient. It is however a key part of our system and approach to deal with drug trafficking. You need many different things to keep Singapore relatively free of drugs." These measures, he said, include good intelligence, strong enforcement, stiff punishments, rehabilitation for offenders and deterrence from the death penalty.

“So I'm telling members: We have to think very carefully about this, before removing any part of this framework or going soft,” the Channel had Shanmugam saying.

“Those who advise for removal often compare us with countries that have already lost the drug war. And I'm not sure if they understand the consequences, or choose not to understand them. Because the consequences are plain for everyone to see,” the Channel had the Minister as saying in the house.

Singapore has some of the world's toughest drug laws as most effective deterrent against crime, with over 50 people currently on death row, according to media sources. A number of appeals by death row inmates have been converted into jail terms.

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