Capital Punishment for a Woman for First Time in almost Two Decades

Singapore has carried out the execution of Saridewi Djamani, marking a milestone as the first woman to face capital punishment in nearly two decades. The city-state's Central Narcotics Bureau confirmed that the 45-year-old Singaporean national met her fate on Friday, following her conviction in 2018 for trafficking approximately 30g of heroin.

Singapore's Changi prison witnessed a significant event as Saridewi Djamani became the first woman executed in almost 20 years. Photo: How Hwee Young/EPA

Notably, the last execution of a woman in Singapore occurred in 2004, involving a 36-year-old hairdresser named Yen May Woen, who faced the death penalty for drug trafficking. This historical context, provided by the local rights group Transformative Justice Collective, highlights the significance of the recent event.

Saridewi's defense rested on her claim of being unable to provide accurate statements during police interrogations due to drug withdrawal. However, the high court rejected this defense, asserting that her withdrawal symptoms were, at most, mild to moderate, having no substantial impact on her ability to make coherent statements.

Despite an outcry from human rights groups such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Amnesty International, the Singaporean government proceeded with the execution. Saridewi's case marks the 15th execution since the government resumed capital punishment in March 2022, following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Notably, just a few days prior to Saridewi's execution, another individual, Mohd Aziz bin Hussain, a 56-year-old Singaporean Malay man, was executed on drugs-related charges. These back-to-back executions have brought the nation's death penalty policies into sharp focus, with international observers calling for reform.

Amidst the debate surrounding the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent for drug-related crime, the Singaporean government maintains its position, asserting that the death penalty is vital in preserving public safety and enjoys widespread support from the populace. It also contends that its judicial processes are equitable and just.

Critics, however, vehemently challenge the notion of the death penalty as an effective deterrent, arguing that it disproportionately affects vulnerable and marginalized individuals. They express concern over prisoners representing themselves in appeals due to limited access to legal counsel.

Michel Kazatchkine, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, voices distress and shock at the executions, deeming them a clear violation of international human rights standards.

In the midst of this contentious issue, the Transformative Justice Collective raises awareness about yet another impending execution scheduled for the following week. The condemned prisoner, a former delivery driver, received a death sentence in 2019 for trafficking approximately 50g of heroin. His defense centers on the belief that he unknowingly delivered contraband cigarettes on behalf of a friend to whom he owed money.

As the execution dates approach, prisoners are allowed daily visits from loved ones, albeit through a glass barrier. An optional photoshoot offers a poignant memory for families before the inmate's demise.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticises the Singaporean government and courts for swiftly expediting executions post-Covid restrictions, underscoring the country's deviation from the international consensus on both the death penalty or capital punishment, and as well as human rights.

In response to the fervent debate surrounding capital punishment's efficacy, the Central Narcotics Bureau reaffirms that the death penalty remains reserved for only the gravest crimes, such as trafficking significant quantities of drugs, which cause immense harm to both individual users and society at large. It forms a vital aspect of Singapore's comprehensive harm prevention strategy, targeting both the supply and demand for illicit substances.

In conclusion, the execution of Saridewi Djamani has reignited the conversation about the complexities of Singapore's justice system. As the world watches, the debate on perplexity and burstiness in the application of capital punishment continues, shaping the future of this highly contentious issue.

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