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Singapore Launches Survey on Death Penalty

by AFP

Matthew Lee High

The city-state, for the first time, will assess public opinion on capital punishment amid calls for its abolition

Singapore will gauge public attitudes toward the death penalty in a survey, the interior ministry said on Wednesday, as human rights groups renewed calls for its abolition.

The city-state—which staunchly maintains that capital punishment is a crime deterrent—executed eight convicts last year, the highest number in a decade, according to official data. They had all committed drug offenses.

The Straits Times said it was the first time that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is in charge of the prisons department, is conducting a survey on the subject. Last week’s hanging in Singapore of convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Prabu N. Pathmanathan sparked fresh calls to scrap the death penalty, a legacy of British colonial rule.

Neighboring Malaysia, where the cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty, had asked Singapore to spare the 31-year-old convict on humanitarian grounds. “The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is conducting the survey to give us a better understanding of Singapore residents’ attitudes towards the death penalty,” stated MHA. It said the survey is part of the government’s “regular research on our criminal justice system” and involves citizens and permanent residents. “Participants were randomly selected based on age, race and gender, for a representative sample of the Singapore resident population,” it added.

Some 2,000 respondents will be questioned between October and December by market research consultancy Blackbox Research, which the MHA has commissioned for the project, said the newspaper.

Human rights groups said the survey is unlikely to be a prelude to Singapore softening its position on capital punishment. “There’s been no indication whatsoever that Singapore’s position on use of the death penalty is softening,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. “One wonders whether the MHA is counting on a survey of public opinion to back their views and provide justification for their continued defiance of the international trend towards abolishing the death penalty,” he said.

Previously, the death penalty in Singapore was mandatory for crimes like drug trafficking and murder. Following a review, legislation was passed in 2012 removing the mandatory provision for drug trafficking and murder under certain circumstances.

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