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Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in Singaporemarker. The city-state had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, estimated by the United Nations to be 13.57 executions per one million population during that period. The next highest was Turkmenistanmarker with 12.43 (which is now an abolitionist country). Each execution is carried out by hanging at Changi Prisonmarker at dawn on a Friday.

Singapore has had capital punishment since it was a British colony and became independent before the United Kingdommarker abolished capital punishment. The Singaporean procedure of hanging condemned individuals is heavily influenced by the methods formerly used in Great Britain.


The following table of executions was compiled by Amnesty International from several sources, including statistics supplied by the Ministry for Home Affairs in January 2001 and government figures reported to Agence France-Presse in September 2003.Numbers in braces are the number of foreign citizens executed, according to information disclosed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Year Murder Drug-related Firearms Total
1991 19 5 26
1992 13 7 1 21
1993 10 2 7
1994 21 54 1 76
1995 20 52 1 73
1996 10 {7} 40 {10} 50
1997 {3} 11 {2} 1 15
1998 4 {1} 24 {5} 28
1999 8 {2} 35 {7} 43
2000 4 {2} 17 {5} 21
2000 23
2001 22

Detailed statistics are not released by the government of Singapore. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told the BBC in September 2003 that he believed there were "in the region of about 70 to 80" hangings in 2003. Two days later he retracted his statement, saying the number was in fact ten.

The chief executioner, Darshan Singh, said that he has executed more than 850 people during his service from 1959 using the phrase: "I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you." This included 18 people on one day, using three ropes at a time. Singh also said that he has hanged 7 people within 90 minutes.

Foreign nationals

The people on death row include foreign nationals, many of whom were convicted of drug-related offences. These inmates come from a diverse group of countries including Australia, Malaysiamarker, Hong Kongmarker, Macaumarker, People's Republic of Chinamarker, Indonesiamarker, Thailandmarker, the Philippinesmarker, Bangladeshmarker, Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, Sri Lankamarker, Nigeriamarker, Ghanamarker, the Netherlandsmarker, United Kingdommarker and Portugalmarker. Figures released by the government of Singapore show that between 1993 to 2003, 36% of those executed were foreigners, including some residents in Singapore (one quarter of Singapore residents are foreigners).


Under Section 216 of the Criminal Procedure Code:
"When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he shall be hanged by the neck till he is dead but shall not state the place where nor the time when the sentence is to be carried out."
Hangings always take place at dawn on Friday and are by the long drop method developed in the United Kingdommarker by William Marwood. The executioner refers to the Official Table of Drops. The government have said that they:
"…had previously studied the different methods of execution and found no reason to change from the current method used, that is, by hanging."

Neither persons under the age of 18 at the time of their offence nor pregnant women can be sentenced to death.

Capital cases are heard by a single judge in the High Court of Singapore. After conviction and sentencing, the sentenced has one appeal to the Court of Appeal of Singapore. If the appeal fails, the final recourse rests with the President of Singapore, who has the power to grant clemency on the advice of the Cabinet. The exact number of successful appeals is unknown. Poh Kay Keong had his conviction overturned after the Court found his statement to a Central Narcotics Bureau officer was made under duress.Successful clemency applications are thought to be even rarer. Since 1965, President's clemency has been granted six times. The last clemency was in May 1998 when Mathavakannan Kalimuthu received pardon from President Ong Teng Cheong with the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

The condemned are given notice at least four days before execution. In the case of foreigners who have been sentenced to death, their families and diplomatic missions/embassies are given one to two weeks' notice.

Amnesty International reports that death row inmates are housed in cells of roughly 3 m² (30 ft²).Walls make up three sides, while the fourth is vertical bars. They are equipped with a toilet, sleeping mat and a bucket for washing. Exercise is permitted twice a day for half an hour at a time. Four days before the execution, the condemned is allowed to watch television or listen to the radio.Special meals of their choice are also cooked, if within the prison budget. Visitation rights are increased from one 20 minute visit per week,though no physical contact is allowed with any visitors.

Capital offences

In addition to the Penal Code, there are four Acts of Parliament in Singapore that prescribe death as punishment for offences. According to the local civil rights group, the Think Centre, 70% of hangings are for drug-related offences.

Penal Code

Under the Penal Code, the commission of the following offences may result in the death penalty:
  • Waging or attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the Government*
  • Offences against the President’s person*
  • Mutiny
  • Piracy that endangers life
  • Perjury that results in the execution of an innocent person
  • Murder
  • Abetting the suicide of a person under the age of 18 or an "insane" person
  • Attempted murder by a prisoner serving a life sentence
  • Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder
  • Robbery committed by five or more people that results in the death of a person
  • Drug trafficking
  • Unlawful discharge of firearms (firearms are heavily restricted in the city)

*In other words, treason.

Misuse of Drugs Act

Under Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, any person found in possession of more than the following quantities of drugs receives a mandatory death sentence:

Death sentences are also mandatory for any person caught manufacturing
  • Morphine, or any salt of morphine, ester of morphine or salt of ester of morphine
  • Diamorphine (Heroin) or any salt of diamorphine
  • Cocaine or any salt of cocaine
The Act, to some degree, reverses the usual burden of proof in common law jurisdictions. Under the Act any person found in possession of more than the prescribed amounts is presumed to be trafficking. Any person who has in their possession a key to a premises where drugs are found is presumed to be in possession of the drugs since "Any person who is proved to have had in his possession or custody or under his control —

(a) anything containing a controlled drug;

(b) the keys of anything containing a controlled drug;

(c) the keys of any place or premises or any part thereof in which a controlled drug is found; or

(d) a document of title relating to a controlled drug or any other document intended for the delivery of a controlled drug,

shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have had that drug in his possession."

Furthermore, any person who is proved or presumed to have had a controlled drug in his possession shall be presumed to have known the nature of that drug.

Internal Security Act

The preamble of the Internal Security Act states that it is an Act to "provide for the internal security of Singapore, preventive detention, the prevention of subversion, the suppression of organised violence against persons and property in specified areas of Singapore, and for matters incidental thereto." The President of Singapore has the power to designate certain security areas. Any person caught in the possession or with someone in possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives in a security area can be punished by death.

Arms Offences Act

The Arms Offences Act regulates firearms offences. Any person who uses or attempts to use arms (Section 4) can face execution, as well as any person who uses or attempts to use arms to commit scheduled offences (Section 4A). These scheduled offences are:- being a member of an unlawful assembly; rioting; certain offences against the person; abduction or kidnapping; extortion; burglary; robbery; preventing or resisting arrest; vandalism; mischief. Any person who is an accomplice (Section 5) to a person convicted of arms use during a scheduled offence can likewise be executed.

Trafficking in arms (Section 6) is a capital offence in Singapore. Under the Arms Offences Act, trafficking is defined as being in unlawful possession of more than two firearms.

Kidnapping Act

The terms of the Kidnapping Act designate abduction, wrongful restraint or wrongful confinement for ransom as capital offences.

Public debate

Public debate in the Singaporean news media on the death penalty is almost non-existent, although the topic does occasionally get discussed in the midst of major, well-known criminal cases. Efforts to garner public opinion on the issue are rare, although it has been suggested that the population is influenced by the traditional Chinese view which held that harsh punishment deters crime and helps maintain social peace and harmony. In October 2007, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said in Parliament that "Certain of us may hold the view that the death penalty should be abolished. But in a survey done two years ago, reported in the Straits Times, 95% of Singaporeans feel that the death penalty should stay. This is something which has helped us to be safe and secure all these years and it is only reserved for a very few select offences."

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, a former opposition Member of Parliament in Singapore, was reportedly only given a few minutes to speak in parliament on the issue before his comments were rebutted by the Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs.Few other opposition members in parliament would bring up the issue, which may be reflective of a population generally indifferent to the matter.

Before the hanging of Shanmugam Murugesu, a three-hour vigil was held on May 6, 2005. The organisers of the event at the Furama Hotelmarker said it was the first such public gathering organised solely by members of the public against the death penalty in Singapore. Murugesu had been arrested after being caught in possession of six packets containing just over 1 kg of cannabis after returning from Malaysiamarker. He admitted knowledge of one of the packets, which contained 300 g, but not the other five.The event went unreported on the partially state-owned media and the policemarker shut down an open microphone session just as the first person began to speak.

After the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen, a Vietnamese Australian man from Melbournemarker, Australia, on December 2, 2005, Sister Susan Chia, the province leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore, declared that "The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life." Chia and several other nuns comforted Nguyen's mother two weeks before his execution for heroin trafficking.

Singapore's death penalty laws have drawn comments in the media. For example, the science fiction author William Gibson, while a journalist, wrote a travel piece on Singapore that he sarcastically titled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty."

Law Society review

In December 2005, the Law Society of Singapore revealed that it has set up a committee, named Review Committee on Capital Punishment, to examine capital punishment in the country. The President of the Society, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam said that the main focus of the review was on issues regarding administering the death penalty such as whether it should be mandatory. A report of the review would be submitted to the Ministry of Law.

Government response

The government states that the death penalty is only used in the most serious of crimes, sending, they say, a strong message to would-be offenders. They point out that in 1994 and 1999 the United Nations General Assembly failed to adopt resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide, as a majority of countries opposed such a move.

The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations wrote a letter to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 2001 which stated:
"…the death penalty is primarily a criminal justice issue, and therefore is a question for the sovereign jurisdiction of each country […] the right to life is not the only right, and […] it is the duty of societies and governments to decide how to balance competing rights against each other."

In January 2004, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a response to Amnesty International's report, "Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of executions". It defended the nation's policy to retain the death penalty, predicating its arguments on, amongst others, the following grounds:
  • There is no international consensus on whether the death penalty should be abolished
  • Each country has the sovereign right to decide on its own judicial system, taking into account its own circumstances
  • The death penalty has been effective in keeping Singapore one of the safest places in the world to work and live in
  • The application of the death penalty is only reserved for "very serious crimes".

The Ministry of Home Affairs also refuted Amnesty International's claims of the majority of the executed being foreigners, and that it was "mostly the poor, least educated, and vulnerable people who are executed." The Ministry stated: "Singaporeans, and not foreigners, were the majority of those executed... Of those executed from 1993 to 2003, 95% were above 21 years of age, and 80% had received formal education. About 80% of those who had been sentenced to capital punishment had employment before their convictions"

Following the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen in 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the government's position, stating that "The evil inflicted on thousands of people with drug trafficking demands that we must tackle the source by punishing the traffickers rather than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards... It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem."

Prior to the United Nations General Assembly's voting on a moratorium on the death penalty in November 2007, Singapore's ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon said: "My delegation would like to remind this committee that capital punishment is not prohibited under international law. Yet it is clear that the sponsors of this draft resolution have decided that there can only be one view on capital punishment, and that only one set of choices should be respected... [the death penalty] is an important component of the administration of law and our justice system, and is imposed only for the most serious crimes and serves as a deterrent. We have proper legal safeguards in place to prevent any miscarriage of justice."


Notable past cases

  • Johannes van Damme, for drug trafficking. He was the first European executed in Singapore since its independence.
  • Tong Ching-man and Poon Yuen-chung, for drug trafficking. The two Hong Kongmarker women were both 18 years old at the time of their crime.
  • Flor Contemplación, for murder.
  • Angel Mou Pui-Peng, for drug trafficking. A young Macao unmarried mother who was 25 years old at her execution.
  • Van Tuong Nguyen, for drug trafficking. As he was an Australian, the verdict caused much outrage and the Government of Australia had to intervene in the matter.
  • Took Leng How, for murder of eight-year old Huang Na. Took's appeal was dismissed in the Court of Appeal with Justice Kan Ting Chiu dissenting.
  • Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, for drug trafficking.
  • Leong Siew Chor, (nicknamed "Kallang Body Parts Murderer") 51-year-old, convicted in May 2006 for strangling and chopping up his lover's corpse, a 22-year-old Chinese national, Liu Hong Mei. He was hanged in November 2007.
  • Tan Chor Jin, (nicknamed "One Eyed Dragon"), was sentenced to death in May 2007 for the shooting and murder of a nightclub owner. Tan represented himself in court without a lawyer. He had asked the judge to give him the death sentence, and was hanged in January 2009.

See also


  1. para 68
  2. Peng Kee, Ho, Singapore Parliamentary Reports, 11th Parliament, Session 1, Volume 83, 23 October 2007.
  3. Angel Mou Pui Peng

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