Singaporean courts have handed out a death sentence to a Malaysian man for his role in a heroin trafficking case from 2011. The sentence was delivered over a Zoom video call, which marks the first time that capital punishment has handed out in such manner in Singapore.
According to a Reuters report, Punithan A/L Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, received the sentence last Friday, the 15th of May 2020. Singapore is currently under a circuit breaker, a lockdown measure aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
A Singapore Supreme Court spokesperson explained that the unorthodox sentencing method was due to lockdown restrictions:
“For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing.”
Peter Fernando, who represented the accused in the case, revealed that there was no objection to the use of Zoom as a means of delivery. It must be noted that only the sentencing was handled remotely, with no legal arguments to be presented during the session.
While courts have deferred most hearings as Singapore battles the coronavirus, cases that are “deemed essential” such as Genasan’s have continued—albeit remotely. The circuit breaker is due to lift after the 1st of June 2020, having started in April.
This marks the second time that a death sentence has been meted out as the legal world navigates through COVID-19-related obstacles. Previously, a court in Nigeria handed out the first death sentence to have ever been delivered remotely.
At the same time, the controversy of the case extends beyond the medium used by the courts (Zoom). Human rights advocates have criticised Singapore’s stance on capital punishment, with Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division argung:
“Singapore’s use of the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so.”
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