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)


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 58 min 15 sec ago

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”