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A man was sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking offenses. In a country that has zero tolerance for illicit drugs, that’s nothing new, but in a first for the city-state, the sentence was delivered remotely, via Zoom.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, was sentenced to death by hanging after he was initially found guilty of heroin trafficking back in 2011.
Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, told Reuters that his client received the judge’s verdict on a Zoom call last Friday and is considering an appeal — though he didn’t object to the sentence being delivered via video call as no other legal arguments were presented.
The Singapore authorities said the death sentence was delivered via Zoom “for the safety of all involved in the proceedings.”
Singapore has suspended all but the most urgent court cases since it went into lockdown in early April to combat the spread of coronavirus.
But rights groups have slammed the decision to deliver such a verdict remotely.
“Whether via Zoom or in person, a death sentence is always cruel and inhumane,” Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s death penalty advisor, said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Singapore is one of only four countries that still execute people for drug-related offenses, Amnesty research shows. Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy for illicit drugs and has hanged hundreds of people — including dozens of foreigners — for drug offenses over recent decades.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division called Singapore’s use of the death sentence “inherently cruel and inhumane” adding that “the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so.”
Activists are once again calling on Singapore authorities to end executions.
“It is high time the government reviewed its draconian approach and abolished the death penalty once and for all,” Sangiorgio said.
The delivery of Genasan’s death sentence via Zoom was a first for Singapore, but it was not the first such incident globally.
Earlier this month, Nigerian judge Mojisola Dada sentenced Olalekan Hameed to death by hanging for murdering his boss’s wife.
Not only was the verdict handed down via video call in that case, but the entire trial was conducted remotely.
"The sentence of this court upon you, Olalekan Hameed, is that you be hanged by the neck until you be pronounced dead and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul. This is the virtual judgment of the court," Justice Dada is quoted as saying.
But Hameed’s death sentence needs to be confirmed by the state governor and that is not a certainty.
While judges continue to hand down death sentences — there are over 2,000 people on death row in Nigeria — the most recent execution in the country happened in 2016.
Covered: People walk along the Esplanade during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in Singapore. Singapore has so far confirmed 27,356 coronavirus cases, 22 deaths and 8,342 recovered, based on the latest update by the country's Ministry of Health. (Photo by Maverick Asio / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)