Rights groups slam Singapore’s ‘callous’ use of Zoom app in handing down death sentence

In this May 16, 2020, file photo, a passerby with a face mask walks past a wall mural in Singapore's Little India district on Saturday, May 16, 2020. Singapore has sentenced a drug suspect to death on the popular video chat app Zoom because of the city-state's coronavirus lockdown.(AP Photo/YK Chan, File)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Rights groups slam Singapore’s ‘callous’ use of Zoom app in handing down death sentence

  • Human Rights Watch said the death penalty is already cruel and inhumane, and the use of Zoom to announce it made it worse

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Human rights advocates on Thursday slammed as "callous" and "inhuman" Singapore's death sentence on a person accused of drug trafficking at a time when the whole world's attention is on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singapore's Supreme Court earlier sentenced Punithan Genasan from Malaysia in a court hearing held on the videoconferencing app Zoom because of the city-state’s coronavirus lockdown.

Defense lawyer Peter Fernando said his client was in jail, while Fernando and prosecutors participated in the hearing from different locations.

Human Rights Watch said Singapore's use of the Zoom app to make the announcement made it even worse, according to an AP report.

“It’s shocking the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to confront his accusers,” said the group’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson.

He said it raised concerns about why Singapore is rushing to conclude the case via Zoom.

Amnesty International urged Singapore to abolish capital punishment, whether announced via Zoom or in person.

Its death penalty adviser, Chiara Sangiorgio, said Singapore is only one of four countries that currently execute people for drug offenses.

“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,” Sangiorgio said.

A Supreme Court spokesperson said courts have been conducting hearings and delivering judgments remotely to minimize the spread of the virus.

The spokesperson, who declined to be identified under court policy, confirmed Genasan’s case was the first “where a death sentence was pronounced by remote hearing in Singapore.”

“This has been the arrangement made by the court ... with essential hearings conducted via Zoom. We have no complaints,” Fernando said Wednesday. He said he will meet Genasan on Friday to discuss an appeal.

The Singapore court ruled that Genasan, 37, was involved in drug trafficking in October 2011. Court documents said the judge found he recruited two drug couriers and directed them to transport and deliver 28.5 grams of heroin.

Singapore applies the death penalty to a range of offenses including drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping, waging war against the government and use of firearms. It has defended capital punishment as a deterrent for the most serious crimes. Most of the cases are drug-related.

The city-state imposed a partial lockdown in early April after it was hit by a second wave of virus infections sparked by foreign workers living in crowded dormitories. It has reported more than 29,000 virus cases, among the highest in Asia, but only 22 deaths. It plans to gradually lift restrictions next month.

Human Rights Watch said the death penalty is already cruel and inhumane, and the use of Zoom to announce it made it worse.

(With AP)


Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

Updated 12 August 2020

Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

  • The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers
  • An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but local youths subsequently mobilized for an attack on the army position

JUBA: Clashes between soldiers and civilians during a disarmament exercise in the central South Sudanese town of Tonj have left 127 dead, the army spokesman said Wednesday.
Major General Lul Ruai Koang told AFP that the fighting erupted on Saturday as security forces carried out an operation to disarm civilians in the area which has seen deadly inter-communal clashes.
More than six years after a civil war broke out in the country, and in the absence of a functioning government, many communities are flush with weapons, which they keep for protection or defense against cattle raids.
The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers. An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but according to Koang the youths mobilized others for an attack on the army position.
“On the latest, the number of those killed, I can confirm to you that it rose to 127,” Koang said, adding that 45 of those killed were security forces and 82 were youths from the area.
A further 32 soldiers were injured.
Koang said two military officers involved in “triggering the clashes” had been arrested, and that the situation in Tonj had calmed down.
South Sudan is emerging from a six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced, and disarmament is a major stumbling block.
Experts have warned against operations that coerce people to lay down their guns without proper planning, as some communities could find themselves unable to protect themselves after their weapons are removed.
“The clashes should be an opportunity to rethink the approach to disarmament. What is the point of removing guns without addressing what drives folks to arms themselves?” Geoffrey Duke, head of the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, said on Twitter.
“We can take guns away this week & they buy a new one next week (as) long as they still see the need to have (one).”