Regardless of how crazy it is, there are still plenty of places that will kill you for cannabis crimes in 2023. And this despite cannabis not being a death-toll drug. In the most recent story of this kind, the Singapore government recently hung two men for what it considered trafficking cannabis. Read on for details.
Man hung in Singapore for 1kg cannabis
If you were thinking about testing out Singapore’s drug laws, maybe think twice on that one. This is not a country that takes kindly to its laws being broken, which is evidenced by Singapore recently hanging two men within three weeks, both for cannabis crimes. One of them for trafficking 1.5kg of cannabis, and the other, only 1kg.
The most recent man in question was not named, as his family requested privacy. Reports by Aljazeera explain his case, and execution at Changi Prison on the 17th of May. His conviction was from 2019, which he received for trafficking 3.3 pounds of cannabis, equivalent to about 1.5kg. Information on the case came through the organization Transformative Justice Collective, which actively fights the application of the death penalty in Singapore.
Explained a Transformative worker, Kokila Annamalai, the man had attempted to reopen his case, but was rejected by the court of appeals, which did not allow a hearing. The grounds for reopening had to do with DNA evidence, and fingerprints; that tied the man to a smaller amount of the drug, which he readily admitted to having.
The story is actually the second of its kind for the country recently. On April 26th, Tangaraju Suppiah was also hung in Singapore for trafficking cannabis. This time, the 46-year-old man was convicted of trafficking 2.2 pounds, approximately 1kg. This was also carried out despite a major push for clemency by both family, and activists (locally and internationally).
Much of the basis for these last-minute appeals had to do with the idea that Suppiah had not been treated fairly in the process; given no adequate legal coverage, or even an interpreter when he was questioned. The man required the lesser spoken language of Tamil. If these things are true, it points to an even bigger human rights abuse, as well as the question of how far a government will go to prove a point in the public’s eye, and who it’ll sacrifice to do it.
Said Annamalai of such practices to the Associated Press, “If we don’t come together to stop it, we fear that this killing spree will continue in the weeks and months to come.” This is a good point, as Singapore has been on a bit of a rampage. Though the country took a much needed break on executions during the corona pandemic, it came back with vigor last year, executing 11 people, and all for drug crimes.
Singapore and drug executions
The thing about Singapore, and many other countries that execute people for lesser crimes, is that exact information is not always available, or the released numbers are questionable. Other countries in this category include China, North Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. And this isn’t to say that Singapore doesn’t release anything at all.
It does release a number each year via the Singapore Prison Service. For example, in 2019, it claimed it had hung four people, and specified that two were for drug crimes. The other two were for murder. The previous year, the country copped to 13 executions, with only two for murder, while 11 were killed for drug crimes. How truthful these numbers are, however, is hard to say.
The country regulates drug crimes through the Misuse of Drugs Act, which requires the person under arrest to prove themselves, and not the government to prove its case. Essentially, guilty until proven innocent, instead of innocent until proven guilty. This isn’t unheard of outside of Singapore, although its not the general standard globally.
Under the law, trafficking any amount more than 500 (~1.1 pounds) dried flower, or 200 grams of hash, is subject to the death penalty. Not only that, when found with it in that amount (or even less), its automatically assumed the person is trafficking. This means if a person secretly grows 500 grams worth for private medical use, they can still be tried, convicted, and executed for trafficking the drug.
Though 500 grams is the amount to incur the death penalty, as little as 15 grams of regular cannabis, or 10 grams of hash, is enough to incur a trafficking charge. The law also dictates that any amount of a drug found in a person’s home or car is automatically assumed to be theirs. All punishments are therefore relevant to that person, even if the contraband isn’t actually theirs.
Internationally the death penalty is accepted for very serious crimes (even if not desired). To give an idea of how little Singapore cares about these people, or the international world, Singapore made headlines in 2022 when it executed a Malaysian man with learning disabilities, named Nagaenthran Dharmalingam. The country works to defend its execution policy, which it says via the Ministry of Home Affairs, is “an essential component of Singapore’s criminal justice system and has been effective in keeping Singapore safe and secure.”
Global executions for drug crimes
Singapore is certainly not alone in using the death penalty for cannabis, and other drug crimes. As stated earlier, many countries don’t report on these matters, or give numbers that can’t be confirmed. But even so, we have a pretty good idea that in 2022 the number of executions for drug crimes, went up globally. At least according to the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: Global Overview 2022.
The report states that 35 countries use the death penalty for drug crimes; although each country varies in terms of what it considers a crime which is punishable by death. Since information isn’t complete on the topic, the report gives the statistic that there were 285+ drug-related executions globally in 2022. It also gives the statistic of 303+ people sentenced to death last year, from a total of 18 different countries. How many people currently sit on death row worldwide for drug-related offenses? According to the report, 3,700+.
The 2022 numbers are up from 2021, which might have had lower numbers due to corona. For example, countries like Singapore and Saudi Arabia stopped executions for periods of time. In 2021 there were 131 reported executions, and 237 reported death sentences handed down from at least 16 countries. This makes the 2022 number for executions about 118% higher than the 2021 number.
The 2022 numbers are 850% higher than 2020 numbers (also likely affected greatly by corona). In that year, there were 30+ executions. Along with active executions, 213+ people received death sentences for drug-related crimes.
What should we expect in the future? Considering how much work countries like Singapore put into defending their practices, probably not progress. In fact, we should expect to see similar, or increased numbers, for this year. And until something actually changes, for the foreseeable future. And while in a country like Singapore its said by the government that prisoners get their due process, the recent reports make this idea questionable. We probably shouldn’t expect that many of these death sentence decisions, come out of fair play.
In 1994, Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay, who was implicated in minor acts of vandalism. It was a big story, and the US government did try to get him clemency; Singapore said no, and caned him four times. Fay was among several who had possibly caused the acts, and retracted his initial confession saying he had been pressured to give it, and assured by doing so he wouldn’t get caned. Under the circumstances of how it reacted to this crime nearly 30 years ago, should we really be surprised that Singapore is hanging people left and right for cannabis now?
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