Saturday, May 14, 2005

It Only Shows Revenge

Singaporeans in general are not sympathetic to those associated with recreational drugs, both consumers and sellers. The public disquiet for the Murugesu case may be attributable to the recent high profile drug related busts of several "socialite elites", including one Dinesh Singh Bhartia, son of Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Kanwaljit Soin and former judicial commissioner Amarjeet Singh. Latter was instrumental in the arrest and caning of one American Michael Fay, who spray painted his wife's car. His snide comment on that case: "You know, once you loosen up or the laws become lax, everything comes in. The floodgates are opened. It doesn't pay to mess around with the system". His own son, upon conviction, appealed against the same system, and had his sentence reduced.

A drug trafficker at the centre of a high-profile campaign to end the death penalty in Singapore was executed despite the appeals of his teenage twin sons and his lawyer's pleas that it was a denial of "natural justice". Shanmugam Murugesu, 38, who was convicted of trying to import 1,029.8 grams (36 ounces) of cannabis through a road check point from Malaysia, was hanged at 6:00 am (2200 GMT Thursday), his lawyer, M. Ravi told AFP.

"Friday the 13th is a black day for Singapore... it only shows revenge, it's a cold blooded murder," Ravi said.

Ravi, civic rights group the Think Centre, a small group of opposition politicians and Murugesu's family waged a sustained campaign to save him, arguing "defects" in the law and many other mitigating factors should have prevented him from being executed. They cited six other cases of people arrested with similar amounts of marijuana avoiding the gallows, Murugesu's offers to help track the "Mr Big" behind the operation and his financial desperation that led him to the crime.

Murugesu's 14-year-old sons, Gopalan and Krishnan, went public with their appeal to save their father, distributing pamphlets in Singapore's busy Orchard Road shopping district to help raise awareness about his plight. "He's in the wrong, but killing him is not the correct decision. Only God can give life and take life," Gopalan told AFP last week. "Please give him a chance... give him 20 years, 30 years (in jail)."

The campaign, which also involved an on-line petition, two appeals to President S.R. Nathan and prayer vigils outside Murugesu's home, was a rare show of public dissent against any government policy in this tightly controlled city-state.

The People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965 and holds all but two elected seats in parliament, instructs the press to report in the "national interests" and rarely allows public rallies. Its unforgiving drug laws -- possessing more than 500 grams of marijuana or 15 grams of heroin carries a mandatory death penalty -- are regarded as among the toughest in the world and regularly attract criticism from foreign human rights groups.

Amnesty International said in a report last year that Singapore had the highest execution rate in the world per capita, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Belarus and Sierra Leone, with most hanged for drug crimes. Amnesty said more than 400 peoplehad been executed in Singapore between 1991 and 2003, which it described as a "shocking number" for a nation of just over four million people.

However the government remained firm on the death penalty during the Murugesu controversy, with the Home Affairs Ministry giving a detailed defence of its policy in a response to questions from AFP.

"The Singapore government has in place a transparent law and order system for the safety and security of its citizens, residents and those who visit," the ministry said in the e-mailed statement. "The death penalty is imposed for the most serious of crimes which sends a strong signal to would-be offenders... it is part of a range of punishments which has helped to keep crime rates and drug abuse rates in Singapore low."

Despite Murugesu's death, Ravi said the campaign to save him had not been a waste of time because it had raised public awareness about capital punishment among Singaporeans. Ravi said the campaign to abolish the death penalty would continue, with the focus turning to other people sentenced to hang in a bid to further heighten community awareness.

"We will continue to highlight the defects in the legal system," he said.

Ravi said Murugesu had told him he knew of eight other people on death row.


Offending poster of Mr Shanmugam MurugesuMonths later, organisers of the concert Hung at Dawn, targeting the death penalty in Singapore, were told by the police they will not be given a permit unless they remove a photo of the late Mr Shanmugam on its posters. Mr Shamugam's photograph adorned the posters that the arts community have used to promote the anti-death penalty concert which was to be held at the Substation on 5 August 2005.

So what is the reason for banning Shanmugam's photo? The conversation below between the office-in-charge and one of the organisers tells the story.

Wen Ann to Organiser: You have to apply to PELU [Police Entertainment Licensing Unit] for this gig.

Organiser: Ah? So no need MDA [Media Development Authority]?

Wen Ann: No, the police will handle this event.

Organiser: Ok. But the event is Friday. I apply tomorrow, got time?

Wen Ann: No problem, you just give me the reference number I will get it done.

Organiser: You sure I get a license?

Wen Ann: Promise. (pause) But there is a condition. You cannot use Shanmugam photograph on your materials.

Organiser: Why? it's not a picture on the police files and we have approval from the family.

Wen Ann: Eh, just cannot lah.

Organiser: You know it's quite hard for me to accept that reason.

Wen Ann: You just do it lah.

Organiser: you have to give me a reason to let me know why I cannot use his picture.

Wen Ann: Erh, you know Shanmugam is an ex-convict and was executed...erh, we are concerned that this figure is glorified.

Organiser: Ok but we are not glorifying him.

Wen Ann: Hmm I understand but I think it will be difficult for them to relent. You just do your against death penalty thing lah but don't use his picture can?

Organiser: But can use his name?

Wen Ann: Can.

Organiser: And 'against death penalty' is ok with you guys?

Wen Ann: Yah no problem.

Organiser: Hmm (pause) alright I accept the condition. But a lot of my publicity has gone out I cannot blanko the picture out. I hope you understand so you might still see traces of his photographs around.

Wen Ann: Yah it's okay i understand. Just stop using the photograph from today.

Organiser: Ok. then on the 18th I have a similar gig. I should go to PELU straight and not bother about MDA?

Wen Ann: Yah you just apply for both through PELU.

Organiser: Ok, I call you tomorrow when I get the application done.

Wen Ann: Okay, bye bye.