Singapore Halts Planned Hanging of Drug Trafficker One Day Before Execution

The Southeast Asian country is one of only a handful globally to still execute people for drug-related offenses
September 18, 2020, 6:12am
Singapore, Death penalty
A guard patrols the compound of Singapore's Changi Prison. Photo: AFP

A convicted drug trafficker in Singapore narrowly escaped execution thanks to a last minute judicial intervention in a case that has attracted widespread condemnation from rights groups.

Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, a 44-year-old Singaporean, was scheduled to be executed by hanging at dawn on Friday, Sept. 18 over drug trafficking offences in August 2011.

His lawyer M. Ravi announced the surprise decision in a statement on Facebook. “The High Court has ordered an interim stay of execution of the death sentence of Suhail pending the filing of his appeal papers,” he said. “Until the appeal is heard by the court… Suhail will not be executed [on Friday morning].”

Ravi also shared a moving handwritten letter from Syed Suhail who said: “This decision is felt by my loved ones. I dream of better days because hope is my only possession.”

This move follows another notable case of a Nigerian man acquitted by the courts of capital drug trafficking charges almost a decade after he was arrested in 2011.

Singapore is one of only four countries that still execute people for drug-related offenses, according to research conducted by Amnesty International.

Drug trafficking remains illegal in the country and is punishable by death. The wealthy Southeast Asian city state credits its low crime reputation with a hardline zero-tolerance policy for illicit drugs. But it previously mulled proposed changes to its mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and murder in 2012.

Majority public opinion in Singapore remains largely indifferent to the death penalty, with many in favor of it to deter drug traffickers and keep crime rates low.

But Syed Suhail’s case prompted a wave of public sympathy and attention from global human rights groups, which argued that the death penalty had no place in modern society as executions were on the decline globally.

Singapore’s policies also recently came under fire after authorities controversially sentenced to death a 37-year-old Malaysian man by Zoom in May, after he was found guilty of trafficking heroin in 2011.

“Pursuing cruel executions, with little notice to the prisoner and their families, can never be justified and has proved highly ineffective to tackle Singapore’s drug-related problems,” Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty’s death penalty advisor, told VICE News after news of Friday’s planned execution broke this earlier this week.

“It is high time for the Singapore government to establish a moratorium on all executions as a first critical step towards abolition.”