Nationality not a factor in scheduling of executions, state counsel says in death row inmate’s suit

Convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Syed Suhail Syed Zin is challenging a decision by the authorities to carry out his hanging ahead of other death row inmates. PHOTO: M. RAVI/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Nationality is not a factor considered in the scheduling of executions, counsel from the Attorney-General's Chambers said on Monday (Nov 30), in the case of a convicted Singaporean drug trafficker who is challenging a decision by the authorities to carry out his hanging ahead of other death row inmates.

Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, who is represented by lawyer M. Ravi, had alleged that there was discrimination based on nationality because he was scheduled to be hanged ahead of Malaysian drug trafficker Datchinamurthy Kataiah.

Datchinamurthy was given the death sentence before Suhail in 2015 but Suhail was scheduled to be hanged in September this year, before Datchinamurthy.

On Monday, Senior State Counsel Francis Ng told the High Court Datchinamurthy's execution had not been scheduled because his case was affected by a separate case that was pending a decision by the Court of Appeal.

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

Mr Ng said Suhail's belief that foreigners and Singaporeans were being treated differently was "unfounded" and Mr Ravi's allegations that the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) was biased against Singaporeans was "empty rhetoric".

Justice See Kee Oon reserved judgment after hearing arguments from both sides. He will give his decision on Suhail's application for judicial review at a later date.

Suhail was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty by the High Court on Dec 2, 2015, for trafficking 38.84g of heroin. His appeal was dismissed on Oct 18, 2018.

On July 5 last year, Suhail was told that his petition for clemency had been rejected. On Sept 11 this 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 SPS decision on the scheduling of his execution.

He suggested that, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, executions of foreigners were being delayed because inmates did not have access to family members due to travel restrictions and possible issues in the repatriation of their remains.

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

The apex court on Oct 23 allowed Suhail to argue his case on the scheduling of executions.

On Monday, Mr Ravi argued that the decision to execute Suhail ahead of Datchinamurthy was a breach of rules of natural justice and a violation of his constitutional right to equality.

Mr Ravi mentioned another death row inmate, Singaporean Masoud Rahimi Mehrzad, in arguing that Suhail was scheduled to be hanged ahead of those sentenced before him.

Mr Ng said the Ministry of Home Affairs has submitted an affidavit to refute suggestions that repatriation of remains and visits by family members had been impeded by the pandemic.

He said the scheduling of executions was carried out in a "principled and rational manner" and there were good reasons why the executions of Datchinamurthy and Masoud were not scheduled ahead of Suhail's.

"It is therefore clear that there was no unlawful 'differential treatment' in scheduling the execution of the applicant's sentence ahead of those of Mr Datchinamurthy and Mr Masoud," said Mr Ng.

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