Singapore to relax mandatory death penalty for drug offenders


A view of the Marina Bay Sands (L) and financial district highrises (R) in Singapore on June 14, 2012.


Roslan Rahman

Singapore's infamously harsh sentencing for drug couriers may be coming to an end, the Associated Press reported today.

In a Monday announcement, deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean said the government will now give judges the ability to consider life sentencing for couriers who are mentally disabled, as well as those who cooperate when caught.

The death penalty will be kept active for "kingpins" and distributors. The government will also consider witholding the death penalty for certain types of  homicide, subject to the intent of the offender, according to ChannelNewsAsia, which added the mandatory death penalty will be upheld for firearms offenses. 

Singapore executed four people in 2011, according to Amnesty International. Two were executed for drug trafficking. 

The city-state has gradually ramped down its use of the death penalty since 1994 and 1995, when Amnesty says over 70 were executed each year, with over 50 of those number punished for drug-trafficking. Foreigners are not exempt from execution if caught. 

Read More: Death penalty statistics by country from the Guardian 

Amnesty also notes that clemency for a drug charge has been granted only six times since Singapore's 1985 independence from the UK. 

Singapore is one of 21 countries world-wide that carried out death sentences in 2011, according to Amnesty, who found the five nations with the highest execution rates are China, Iran, Saudi Arabi, Iraq, and the USA. 

Teo emphasized the death penalty in its entirety isn't going away anytime soon, in a ChannelNewsAsia report.

"Singaporeans understand that the death penalty has been an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for very serious offences, and largely support it. As part of our penal framework, it has contributed to keeping crime and the drug situation under control."

Life sentencing isn't a bed of roses in Singapore, either. Prisoners who commit offenses are subject to caning, although in 2008, the practice was made subject to review by external commitees.