Untenable to give special moratorium on execution of Malaysian death-row prisoners: Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on May 24 that the Pakatan Harapan government has made three requests to stop executions of Malaysians in Singapore since it took over in Malaysia. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Since the Pakatan Harapan government took power in Malaysia around a year ago, it has made three requests to stop executions of Malaysians in Singapore, two of whom are drug traffickers, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Friday (May 24).

But Singapore cannot make exceptions for Malaysians who have been sentenced to death for their offences as it would undermine the rule of law here, he added.

"Let me be quite clear, it's not possible for us to do so, regardless of how many requests we receive," said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the Singapore Government will not intervene when there are no legal reasons to do so and when the courts have already imposed a sentence.

"It is not tenable to give a special moratorium to Malaysians, and impose it on everyone else, including Singaporeans who commit offences which carry the death penalty," said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the death penalty is imposed because evidence shows that it is an effective deterrent.

"And we are not going to be deflected from doing the right thing for Singapore," he said.

Mr Shanmugam revealed that his Malaysian counterpart, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong, who is the de-facto Law Minister, had spoken to Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong and written to the Singapore Government over the case of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman.

The 31-year-old Malaysian drug mule is on death row here and got a temporary reprieve after the Court of Appeal granted him a stay of execution on Thursday (May 23), a day before he was due to be hanged.

"We will respond to Mr Liew once the case is over," said Mr Shanmugam.

Speaking at the Central Narcotics Bureau's workplan seminar at the Home Team Academy, Mr Shanmugam said some ministers in the Pakatan Harapan government are "ideologically opposed" to the death penalty.

"And we have to respect that," he said. "At the same time, we do impose a death penalty in Singapore, and I expect that Malaysia will respect that condition as well."

He added that Singapore's population is supportive of that stand, and the death penalty is imposed because it is an "effective deterrent" against drug offences.

Mr Shanmugam revealed that last year, almost 30 per cent of drug traffickers caught here were Malaysians, and nearly 30 per cent of the heroin seized here, by weight, was brought in by Malaysians.

He added that one in five traffickers who brought in drugs above the threshold that brings the death penalty was also a Malaysian.

"How do we go easy on Malaysians in the face of these statistics? And if we did, what will it mean for the rule of law? It will become a joke if there is a request made and we go easy. That is not the way Singapore works," said Mr Shanmugam.

He said that when he responds to Datuk Liew, he will make three key suggestions to get to the root of the problem.

First, he will request for statistics on how many drug traffickers the Malaysian authorities pick up on their side of the border.

"I assume their border control is as good, (that) they have strict laws on drugs. I assume they have as much of a will and intention to enforce them as we do," said Mr Shanmugam.

"If they can make sure they arrest the traffickers before they come into Singapore, that helps them and it helps us. The traffickers do not have to face the death penalty - they can keep them in Malaysia."

He will secondly ask about efforts to catch drug kingpins who operate in Malaysia and are "too scared to come into Singapore".

"We have good cooperation with Malaysian agencies; they do a good job, we cooperate effectively. And I hope they can be given every support, and we can get more evidence on the other kingpins operating in Malaysia to be picked up," said Mr Shanmugam.

Third, he said it would be helpful if the penalties that Singapore imposes on drug traffickers are widely publicised among the potential drug-trafficking group.

He identified the group to be predominantly poor, less educated and Indian, who traffic drugs to earn "a few hundred ringgit".

Mr Shanmugam said that the drug trafficking situation, if dealt with, would benefit both countries, adding that a practical way is to address the social situation of the vulnerable in Malaysia.

"If we worry about lives - both governments, and we do - then I would suggest that these are concrete, practical steps that can be taken," he said.

"It is simply not doable to keep asking Singapore not to carry out the penalties imposed by the courts," said Mr Shanmugam, who later elaborated on the serious drug problem in the region.

Pannir Selvam, represented by Singapore lawyers Too Xing Ji and Lee Ji En, had applied for his death sentence to be stayed on the basis that he intends to mount a legal challenge against the rejection of his petition for clemency to President Halimah Yacob.

A three-judge Court of Appeal that granted his request had noted that Pannir Selvam was told of the rejection and his execution date just one week in advance.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said this did not leave the prisoner much time to obtain legal advice on what options he has to challenge the rejection of his clemency plea.

Mr Too had raised questions during the hearing about the "lack of transparency" of the clemency process in relation to Pannir Selvam, who was convicted of importing 51.84g of heroin in 2017.

In a statement on Thursday night addressing Malaysian media reports about the case, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the petitions were carefully considered.

It added that the President acted on the advice of the Cabinet, in accordance with the Constitution, in not exercising the clemency power.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.