High Court dismisses death row inmate's bid to delay execution on ground of unequal treatment

Syed Suhail Syed Zin was given the mandatory death penalty on Dec 2, 2015, for trafficking 38.84g of heroin.
Syed Suhail Syed Zin was given the mandatory death penalty on Dec 2, 2015, for trafficking 38.84g of heroin.PHOTO: M. RAVI/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The High Court on Monday (Feb 8) dismissed a bid by a convicted Singaporean drug trafficker to delay his impending execution on the ground that death row inmates were not being treated equally.

Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, had argued that the scheduling of his execution ahead of other drug traffickers who were sentenced before him, was a violation of his constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

He said Datchinamurthy Kataiah, a Malaysian, and Masoud Rahimi Mehrzad, a Singaporean, were sentenced to death earlier than him, but their execution had yet to be scheduled.

However, Justice See Kee Oon said that contrary to his arguments, Suhail's situation was different from that of the other two inmates, who had further legal recourse for their cases to be reviewed and potentially reopened.

"Put simply, they were not in the same boat, even though they all belonged to a generic group of prisoners awaiting capital punishment," said the judge in his written judgment.

Suhail had also argued that he was discriminated against as a Singaporean because the scheduling of executions was impacted by Covid-19 measures which include cross-border travel restrictions.

He claimed that executions of foreigners were being held back as they do not have access to family members and there may be issues in repatriating their remains.

But Justice See said the Ministry of Home Affairs has refuted these allegations and Suhail has failed to produce evidence that Covid-19 restrictions had an impact on the scheduling of sentence.

"The applicant's contentions in respect of the nationality argument were bare assertions based on pure conjecture and surmise," said the judge.

Suhail's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, told The Straits Times that his client would be appealing.

Suhail was given the mandatory death penalty on Dec 2, 2015, for trafficking 38.84g of heroin. His appeal was dismissed and his petition for clemency was rejected.

On Sept 11 last year, he was told that he would be hanged on Sept 18.

Mr Ravi then applied for permission from the High Court for judicial review of the decision to schedule his execution.

Justice See dismissed his application on Sept 17 but ordered a stay of Suhail's execution pending the appeal.

The Court of Appeal on Oct 23 allowed Suhail to argue his case on the scheduling of executions.

In November, Senior State Counsel Francis Ng told the High Court that the execution of Datchinamurthy and Masoud had not been scheduled because they fell into a category of cases that were affected by a separate case.

In that separate case, Malaysian drug runner Gobi Avedian, who was also represented by Mr Ravi, escaped the gallows on Oct 19 after he succeeded in getting the apex court to review his conviction.

Like Gobi's case, the cases of Datchinamurthy and Masoud involved the legal doctrine of wilful blindness and the presumption of knowledge of the nature of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.