Monday, July 19, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Criticise Singapore

Author critical of Singapore is arrested

Singapore police arrested a British author on Sunday, a day after he launched a book alleging double standards in the city-state's use of the death penalty.

Alan Shadrake, who wrote the book "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice on the Dock,'' was detained on charges including criminal defamation and contempt of court, police said in a statement.

Shadrake's arrest came a day after the launch of his book, which contained an interview with Darshan Singh, the long-time chief executioner at Singapore's Changi Prison, who has since retired.

The book also features interviews with local human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on various cases involving capital punishment in the city-state, which carries out the death penalty by hanging.

In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for murder, treason and drug trafficking, among other crimes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Once a Jolly Hangman

Singapore Justice in the Dock: Alan Shadrake, SIRD, Petaling Jaya, 2010
In November 2007 the United Nations General Assembly approved a world wide moratorium on the death penalty by a two to one majority. Singapore put itself at the head of the minority who voted against the moratorium, declaring its right to execute and that the death penalty was necessary to maintain law and order in the tiny state. It fiercely rejected the experience of most countries in the world and repeated again old arguments which have been rejected, not only on moral grounds, but also from the experience of criminology which demonstrates that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Quite apart from its opposition vote, Singapore spoke with a voice of righteousness and even moral superiority. However, there is always a weak point in the Singapore position. If, as it claims, the death penalty is maintained as a deterrent, why must it be so secretive about it. Everything to do with the death penalty in Singapore, the number of those executed, the process itself, is kept secret; one would expect that deterrence would require publicity.
At last the veil has been lifted. In his book "Once a Jolly Hangman", Alan Shadrake reveals more than has ever been known about Singapore's death practice. His main source is an interview with the 'Jolly Hangman', Darshan Singh who was executor of about 1000 men and women in the grim Changi Jail.
Shadrake further researches the cases of several notable victims of the hangman and of some who escaped Singapore's vaunted judicial system. The truth emerges that Singapore executions do not follow a just judicial system. Especially where foreigners are involved, those with power and wealth can escape the gallows, the poor and ignorant are hanged until they die.
It is not a well written book. There is a lot of extraneous material. There are too many printing errors as if it was never proofread. But it performs a unique service in letting us see the horrible reality of hanging, typified in the assurance given by the hangman to each of his victims, the last words they ever heard,"I am sending you to better place than this". But it is the hypocrisy of the Government of Singapore which arouses the greater horror which effectively says to each victim "Singapore will be a better place without you", unless there are reasons of state to let you go your way.
"Once a Jolly Hangman" is banned in Singapore

Champion against Shackles

Shackled before Government House
On the morning of Tuesday 13th there appeared before Government House in Bangkok a 40 year old man in prison clothes, wearing shackles. His name is Benny Moafi, an Iranian and Swedish citizen; his legal campaign for prisoners on death row has already been recorded on this website. Benny has submitted the legal briefs against the permanent shackling of prisoners condemned to death. His case is a brilliant indictment of this practice and his arguments are based on Conventions of International Law ratified by Thailand, as well as on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the first time in Thailand that a legal case has taken this dramatic approach, and Benny's arguments were studied as a test case in a recent legal workshop organized by the International Commission of Jurists in Bangkok. The Administrative Court on 15th September 2009 gave a favourable decision in the case. Unfortunately, implementation of the Court Order has been blocked by an appeal against the decision by the Department of Corrections. During the long delay for the appeal decision, the prisoner, whose case is subject of the exemplary trial, remains shackled. Benny is following the course of the appeal. However, international interest in the case is growing, and in a recent meeting with ngo representatives the Minister of Foreign Affairs has promised redress.

Benny Moafi graduated in law while himself a prisoner. He has just been released on parole after ten years of imprisonment. He has fought innumerable legal cases and complaints on behalf of other prisoners, most of whom are too poor to pay for any legal representation. One prisoner remarked that the day when Benny was himself released from prison, a statue to him should be raised before each of the prisons in Bangkok where he has served. At present he is pursuing over 200 cases in the courts.

And now he has turned to his own case, to claim that he has been wrongly imprisoned for ten years on falsified evidence. The case is a maze of Minos and the wheels of justice turn ever so slowly. At last the patience of Benny is reaching exhaustion, ten years of his life have gone by and he has ambitious legal plans to implement, if he can be truly free again. He has addressed a letter to the Prime Minister calling attention to the injustices he has suffered, as is the right of any inhabitant of the Kingdom when all else fails.
This site wishes to honour this great campaigner for justice and to support the call for justice he is now making on his own befalf.

For further details on the protest of Benny Moafi see the link on the right.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Sufficient Evidence

On July 2nd I attended the trial of a drug case which could carry the death penalty. The drugs found as evidence were 'discovered' by police in a car which had been parked outside the hotel room of the accused. He claimed that the car had been parked there by a friend who had promised to return to collect it within the hour. Plain clothes police arrested him in his hotel room in the account of the accused, but outside a 7/11 store according to police. He was brought to a police station where after an hour or so he was brought out to witness the search of the car in the presence of many police men standing around. All the car doors were open. A police man climbed onto the back seat, felt underneath with his hand, and produced a plastic bag of a crystalline substance, to the cheers and laughter of the onlookers. The defendant claimed that he had never entered the car, nor driven it. A receipt showed that the car had indeed been rented by the 'friend'.
Fingerprinting is a relatively simple technology which has been in use for over a hundred years. Surely it would have been easy to check the interior of the car for fingerprints of the accused, and the plastic bag found there. Nor was there a forensic examination of the hands or clothes of the accused for traces of drugs.
He may be condemned to death. On what evidence?