Singaporean court sentences man to death via Zoom meeting


Singapore while in coronavirus lockdown, has sentenced a drug suspect to death at a court hearing held on the video conferencing app Zoom, a decision slammed by a human rights groups as callous and inhumane.

On Friday, a judge sentenced Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian man for heroin trafficking offenses that took place in 2011.

It marks the city’s first case where such a ruling has been done remotely.

Human rights groups argued that pursuing the death penalty at a time when the world is being gripped by a pandemic was “abhorrent”.

The vast majority of court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned until at least 1 June, when the city’s current lockdown period is due to end but cases which have been deemed to be essential are being held remotely.

“For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing,” a spokesperson for Singapore’s Supreme Court told Reuters.

MrGenasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, said his client is considering an appeal.

Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs. In 2013, 18 people were executed – the highest figure in at least two decades, according to Amnesty International.

Of those 18, 11 had been charged with drug-related offenses.

Kirsten Han, a Singaporean journalist and activist, said: “The delivering of a death sentence via Zoom just highlights how clinical and administrative capital punishment is.”

She added that by bypassing a courtroom appearance, the accused’s family had missed out on an opportunity to speak and hold hands with him.

Amnesty International said the ruling was a “reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking.

“At a time when the global attention is focused on saving and protecting lives in a pandemic, the pursuit of the death penalty is all the more abhorrent.”

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told the BBC: “It’s shocking the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to confront his accusers.”

Singapore officials are not the first to issue a death penalty over a video conference call.

Human Rights Watch condemned a similar ruling made in Nigeria earlier this month.

Lagos judge Mojisola Dada sentenced Olalekan Hameed to death by hanging for the murder of his employer’s mother.

Hameed had pleaded not guilty to killing 76-year-old Jolasun Okunsanya in December 2018.

“The irreversible punishment is archaic, inherently cruel and inhuman. It should be abolished,” Human Rights Watch told the BBC at the time. (Source: BBC)