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Singapore Should Rehabilitate, Not Execute, Drug Users

Halt Imminent Execution of Syed Suhail Bin Syed Zin; Abolish Death Penalty

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

The Singapore authorities should immediately halt the planned execution of Syed Suhail Bin Syed Zin this Friday, September 18 for drug trafficking offenses dating back to August 2011.

Singapore’s High Court found Syed guilty of drug trafficking in January 2016 under the country’s draconian Misuse of Drugs Act. Under that law, the court must apply the death penalty for drug offenses involving certain quantities of listed narcotics. While there are some extremely limited exceptions to this offense, none were found to apply to Syed. The Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, without providing a written ruling, in October 2018.

Syed began using heroin in 1999, and spent two extended stints in a drug rehabilitation center trying to recover from his addiction.

On September 10, Syed’s family received a letter notifying them that Syed would be executed at the Changi Prison and encouraging them to make funeral arrangements. His family was only given eight days’ notice of his planned execution. They may only visit Syed for four hours per day, and because many of his close relatives live in Malaysia, they are barred from seeing him due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a poignant handwritten letter to a lawyer this week pleading for help, just 72 hours before his scheduled hanging, Syed wrote: "I dream of better days because hope is my only possession."  He added: “I love Singapore. Everything I love is here. Being Singaporean, though, has expedited my execution.”

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility. The use of the death penalty is diminishing globally, particularly in many countries in Asia. In its December 2007 resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, the United Nations General Assembly stated that “there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable.” Governments around the world should call on Singapore to impose a moratorium on capital punishment, and join the other 106 countries that have abolished the death penalty.

Ahead of Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next year, the Singapore government should end the death penalty and make Syed the first survivor of this new policy. People like Syed belong in rehabilitation centers, not coffins. 


Update (September 16, 2020): The quotes from Syed Suhail Bin Syed Zin were added to this article after its initial publication.

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