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People walk past the Supreme Court in Singapore January 22, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

Using Zoom video conferencing, a Singaporean judge on May 15 remotely sentenced a man to death by hanging. Punithan Genasan, 37, was found complicit in drug trafficking by coordinating 2 couriers to move 28.5 grams of heroin in 2011. Genasan denied any connection to the couriers but his defence was rejected. Genasan, a Malaysian national, was extradited to Singapore in January 2016, days after he was arrested in Malaysia.

The death penalty is always abhorrent, but to deliver this sentence, the harshest a defendant can receive, through the impersonal remoteness of a Zoom video call is utterly inhumane. This practice seems spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic – earlier this month, a judge in Nigeria used a Zoom call to issue the death penalty to a man convicted of murder.

Under Singapore’s draconian Misuse of Drugs Act, the courts must impose the death penalty for drug offenses involving certain quantities of listed narcotics. There are some exceptions to this rule, none of which apparently applied in Genasan’s case.

Singapore is one of few countries that currently imposes the death penalty for drug offenses, a practice that is contrary to international human rights law. In doing so, Singapore joins the ranks of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, which all regularly execute people for drug offenses and have abysmal human rights records.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an irreversible, degrading, and cruel punishment. Singapore should end its use of capital punishment, rather than find inventive ways to hand down such sentences during a global pandemic.

Singapore also still refuses to make public the scheduling of executions, leaving relatives of those condemned and their advocates under acute stress, struggling with uncertainty until the last minute.

The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view toward its eventual abolition. Singapore should join most UN member countries and act to abolish the death penalty.

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