“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”
- JRR Tolkien, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’
COMMENT Here is a thought. Instead of all those protests against US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, oppositional voices should instead attempt to highlight the plight of a mother, A Letchumi, who at this very moment is pleading with anyone to save the life of her son, K Datchinamurthy, who is convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in Singapore.
These “children of Malaysia” are the forgotten children; those children that the state has deemed transgressed against the state. While politicians and their cronies steal money from public coffers and practice divisive politics, these children - drug mules to capitalists of the black economy who bribe and conspire with state actors - face the ultimate punishment.
For most, the sin and the sinner are the same. This is especially so when it comes to drug-related offences. Looking back at my notes and the many of the articles I have written about crime, punishment and the state security apparatus, the names of lawyers N Surendran, Latheefa Koya and of late, Raul Lee Bhaskaran, keep cropping up. I am grateful for the work they and many others like them do for people who are marginalised and disenfranchised from the democratic process.
While I do not support the death penalty, I would make an exception when it comes to corruption. Maybe China has got it right. Last year, Time magazine reported exactly how much money a Chinese official could take in bribes before the state executed him or her.
“How much is an errant Chinese official’s life worth? Three million renminbi, or US$463,000, according to a statement released on April 18 by Chinese judicial authorities. The legal clarification makes the death penalty applicable to anyone who either embezzles, or accepts bribes of, that sum or more. But in certain “especially serious” instances “with extremely vile impact,” like when officials embezzle disaster-relief funds, stealing half that can be grounds for death by firing squad.”
I do not know about anyone else but the sight of mother pleading for the help of officials from a state mired in corruption scandals, which would get them the firing squad if convicted in China, is tragic and points to the absurdity of the world we live in.
However, most people do not care about the fate of a convicted drug mule facing the death penalty in Singapore. Indeed when it comes to human rights, drugs and the death penalty, most people couldn’t care less about these people, believing they deserve what they get. Indeed as a human rights issue, it does not move people because ultimately nobody cares about the fate of criminals.
It should be noted that also present at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur was Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign founder M Ravi.
In the Diplomat’s reportage of the death penalty in Singapore citing the first time the death penalty was lifted, in the case of Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian who was sentenced to hang eight years ago, the magazine highlighted the effort of Ravi and the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 2012:
“Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian who was sentenced to hang in 2009, was spared after a judge ruled that Yong was merely a drug courier, rather than involved in the supply or distribution of narcotics. Credit for this positive change must go to the relentless efforts of human rights lawyer M Ravi, and to the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, passed in parliament on November 2012.”
Indeed as reported, Ravi in a press statement said: “This is the happiest day of my client’s life. He feels intense gratitude towards all those who have worked so hard to save him from being executed. Yong has seen the error of his ways and has repented. He is happy to have his life back again.”
Some get to live, others die
However, it is inaccurate to claim that the discretion (in the amendment) rests solely on the presiding judge. As Surendran points out in this particular case, Singapore’s attorney-general (AG) decided to give a certificate of cooperation to the co-accused but not to Datchinamurthy.
Freelance journalist Kristen Han in a piece for open democracy - ‘The logic of Singapore’s death penalty for drugs is untenable’ - discusses this very issue:
“Although the minister himself emphasised the need for ‘fair and transparent laws and due process’, the process behind the issuing of a Certificate of Cooperation remains opaque and lacks accountability. There is little clarity and understanding of how the prosecution makes the decision on whether or not to issue such a certificate; in the case of Cheong Chun Yin, the prosecution had initially denied him the certificate, then abruptly changed its mind. What changed? We don’t know.
“It’s also possible for two co-accused persons to receive differentiated treatment even if both provided what information they had to the authorities, as in the case of Muhammad Ridzuan Mohd Ali and Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim. Abdul Haleem was granted a certificate and was therefore able to escape the gallows, but Ridzuan is still on death row today. What caused the prosecution to decide to grant one a certificate and not the other? We don’t know.
“The prosecution’s decision whether or not to grant a certificate is not subject to judicial review unless one can prove malice or bad faith. It’s a very high bar that perpetuates the lack of clarity in relation to this serious issue of life and death.”
In the same Diplomat article, the rationale for killing drugs mules was articulated by Singapore’s Minister of Law K Shanmugam, who claimed that exempting drug couriers, drug lords will “think the signal is that young and vulnerable traffickers will be spared and can be used as drug mules.”
This kind of thinking is absurd because drug barons do not care about anyone. They certainly do not care about disposable drug mules and the damage done to their business, which is negligible, in confiscated contraband.
How does one make the case for sparing the life of a convicted drug trafficker? Do you point to the “opaqueness” of the law? Do you point to the hypocrisy of the state which has no problem turning its back on its own citizens but goes about organising a flood flotilla to another country for political purposes?
I know how this will turn out. Ultimately, beyond the small circle of people helping Letchumi, nobody is interested in her plight - certainly not the government of Singapore, and certainly not the government of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, some children of Malaysia are abandoned and nobody really cares.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini