The death penalty

Source: Sunday Times (Singapore), 12 February 2006

My Sunday morning sojourn to the local coffee shop this week was spoilt somewhat by the headline of the newspaper left on the table (I didn’t buy it … honest). Ironically, I had, earlier that morning, been leafing through the lastest issue of the Amnesty International magazine, Human Rights Defender (see below), which had a feature on the Van Tuong Nguyen hanging in Singapore. I guess one shouldn’t expect anything less of Singapore Press Holdings, and in a perverse way, I was quite pleased this issue was considered serious enough to occupy the front page. As the country with the dubious honour of having the highest execution rate in the world (13.57 executions per one million population, between 1994-99, followed by Saudi Arabia (4.65), Belarus (3.20), Sierra Leone (2.84), Kyrgyzstan (2.80), Jordan (2.12) and China (2.01)), there is virtually no public debate on the subject. The fact the powers-that-be think it is sufficiently important to figure so prominently in the national daily might be construed as a sign they are beginning to feel the pressure of criticism from the international community. According to Amnesty International, 70 countries have abolished the death penalty in the last 29 years (Human Rights Defender, Feb/March, p.5). Anyway, on the 96% figure, I could question the veracity of the data collection, the size of the sample, and so on, but the fact will remain that the majority of people in Singapore are in favour of the death penalty. Whether they would if they were a sufficiently open debate to be presented with some sound intellectual arguments against the death penalty is another matter. A recent podcast from ABC Radio’s Late Night Live makes for compelling listening in this respect, in which Phillip Adams interviews the author of ‘Dead Man Walking‘, Sister Helen Prejean.