Lawyer apologises for making statements in contempt of court

SINGAPORE - Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam apologised to the court and the public on Monday (June 5) for making statements about the execution of a drug trafficker that were in contempt of court.

The 41-year-old lawyer had represented Singaporean Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 31, who was found guilty of trafficking in heroin and was hanged at Changi Prison on May 19 after exhausting all avenues of appeal.

On the same day, Mr Thuraisingam criticised the death penalty and Singapore's legal system in a post on his Facebook page that has since been taken down.

In the post, he implied that ministers, judges and lawyers have, because of financial gain, turned a blind eye to what he deemed as "cruel and unjust" death penalty laws.

On Monday, he wrote on Facebook that he unconditionally apologised for making the statements and unequivocally withdrew them.

Said Mr Thuraisingam: "There is no basis for me to have insinuated that judges have subordinated their judicial duty to financial greed or that they are more concerned, or preoccupied, with acquiring financial wealth and material goods which causes them to turn a blind eye to the injustice of the law they apply."

Mr Thuraisingam, who is an outspoken critic of the death penalty, told The Straits Times that he was alerted by the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Law Society that his original post was in contempt of court.

He said: "I agree. I have made a mistake. I have therefore apologised and withdrawn my statements."

He added that he was not asked to apologise or to take down his post.

Over the years, he has represented accused people facing the gallows on a pro bono basis under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (Lasco).

He received the Lasco Award last year for his commitment and service to the scheme.

His client Ridzuan had been found guilty of trafficking in 72.50 grams of pure heroin in 2013.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, those convicted of trafficking more than 15 grams of diamorphine can be sentenced to death.

His appeal against conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on Feb 27, 2014 but in April that year, Ridzuan sought leave from the High Court to start judicial review proceedings against the Public Prosecutor's decision not to grant him a certificate of substantive assistance.

Drug traffickers who are couriers and are deemed to have provided substantive assistance to investigations are eligible for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

The High Court dismissed the application on July 17, 2014 and in Oct 2015, the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal.

On Jan 8, 2016, Ridzuan took his case to the Court of Appeal for the third time by way of a criminal motion for the Court of Appeal to review its decisions on his appeals, on grounds that the Misuse of Drugs Act provisions under which he was sentenced to death were unconstitutional.

The apex court dismissed the criminal motion on Dec 2, 2016. He submitted a petition for clemency to the President which was unsuccessful.