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Countries Using the Death Penalty for Drug Dealers: It Works in Singapore
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D. -- Author of 250+ Books Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D. -- Author of 250+ Books
Lafayette, CA
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Gallows for Hanging: the Method of Execution in Singapore

       Here's another article from my associate who is doing a series of posts and books about usuing the death penalty for punishing drug dealers.

Countries Using the Death Penalty for Drug Dealers: It Works in Singapore

By Paul Brakke

         In the first article in this series, I described the ravages of an opioid crisis which is killing tens of thousands of victims each year.  I also described some proposals to apply more stringent punishments, including the death penalty, to the dealers -- especially the higher-ups trafficking drugs. 

          It's an approach that really works, as reflected in the success stories of applying the penalty in Singapore and China.  This doesn't mean that the problem is entirely eradicated.  But both countries have experienced marked declines in both drug trafficking and use, along with a decline in the kinds of crimes often associated with drug dealing, such as gang wars and drive-by shootings between rival gangs.  You might consider these approaches used in other countries like pilot programs for implementing harsher penalties in the U.S.  While there are already four types of capital punishment for drug-related crimes -- murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, a murder committed with a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, a murder related to drug trafficking, and the death of a law-enforcement officer in a situation related to drugs -- these harsher penalties would apply capital punishment to drug trafficking itself, particularly to the leaders of trafficking organizations. 

         Thus, we have at least two good examples of other countries -- Singapore and China -- pursuing a crackdown to dry up the drug supply and hence the number of victims by using the death penalty for the most serious dealers.  I'll feature the death penalty approach in Singapore in this post, and discuss the approach used in China in my next post.

The Death Penalty in Singapore

        Singapore has had capital punishment since its days as a British colony, and this is one reason that Singapore prides itself as being a very safe country in which to live.

         At one time, Singapore had the second-highest per-capita execution rate in the world -- from 1994 to 1998.  In a survey taken in 2005, 95% of the population of Singapore believed in keeping the death penalty.  In recent years the use of the penalty has declined, since only two people were executed in 2014, and no one in 2012 and 2013.  This indicates that the approach has worked.

         Singapore uses hanging to carry out its executions.  However, Singapore lifted the mandatory death penalty for those convicted of drug trafficking or murder under certain circumstances, so the judge can sentence such offenders to life imprisonment, with the possibility of two appeals.  Though rare, these appeals can be to a High Court Judge, the Court of Appeal, and finally to the President.  

          Singapore is particularly harsh on prisoners in drug cases in that 70% of the hangings have been for drug-related offenses.  Under the penal code, just taking drugs into Singapore merits the death penalty, so this offense is right up there with various violent and very serious crimes, including waging or attempting to wage war against the government, piracy that endangers life, murder, kidnapping, and robbery by five or more people that results in a death.  In particular, under Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, this mandatory death sentence applies to anyone importing, exporting, or found in possession of more than the following:

          - 1200 grams of opium and containing more than 30 grams of morphine

          - 30 grams of morphine

          - 15 grams of diamorphine (heroin)

          - 30 grams of cocaine

          - 500 grams of cannabis or 1000 grams of a cannabis mixture

          - 250 grams of methamphetamine.

       Plus there is a sentence for anyone manufacturing certain types of drugs including:

          - morphine

         - diamorphine (heroin)

          - cocaine

          - methamphetamine

       It is also presumed, under the law, that any person with a controlled drug in his or her possession knows the nature of the drug.

       These death penalty provisions seem to have been effective, in that according to some reports, Singapore has one of the lowest prevalence of drug abuse around the world.  For instance, one blogger Benjamin Chang, reports that in over 20 years, the number of drug abusers arrested each year has declined from over 6000 in the early 1990s to about 2000 in 2011. There has also been a decline in the number executed for drug related crimes from the period when these executions were at a peak from 1994 to 2001, averaging about 20 to 40 executions a year. They dropped from zero to three each year during the period from 2007 to 2017.[1] 

       The government and its citizens believe that the policy has helped to keep Singaporeans safe. In the government view, the death penalty is only used in the most serious of crimes, including drug offenses, which sends a strong message of deterrence to potential offenders.  As stated by the Ministry of Home Affairs in January 2004 -- a position reaffirmed by the continuation of Singapore's death penalty policies: "The application of the death penalty is only reserved for 'very serious crimes… (the) death penalty has been effective in keeping Singapore one of the safest places in the world to work and live in."  More recently, a similar statement about the effectiveness of the death penalty has been asserted by Vivian Balakrisknan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a speech to the UN in September 2016.  As she asserted: "In our view, capital punishment for drug-related offenses and for murder has been a key element in keeping Singapore drug free and keeping Singapore safe.'[2] 

       Additionally, the success of combating drug abuse with the death penalty has inspired some American elected officials and office-seekers since 2012 to urge applying the Singaporean model in the U.S.  For example, Michael Bloomberg, once a Mayor of New York City, said that the U.S. could learn from nations like Singapore's approach to drug trafficking in that "executing a handful of people saves thousands and thousands of lives."  And Newt Gingrich, a high-profile Republican, has long advocated bringing Singaporean methods to support the U.S. War on Drugs.

       Thus, this is one approach to dealing with drugs through capital punishment that definitely deserves consideration in the U.S. today.  I'll discuss the approach used in China in my next post.



[1] "Capital Punishment in Singapore," Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punbishingment_in_Singapore

[2] "Singapore: Executions Continue in Flawed Attempt to Tackle Drug Crime, Despite Limited Reforms," Amnesty International, October 11, 2017.  http://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/singapore-executions-continue-in-flawed-attempt-to-tackle-drug-crime

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