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my case against the death penalty.
I'm writing this at 1.57 a.m. instead of finishing up on my SLS readings or plain sleeping because there's a lot I want to say, and I took so long to write this entry because I don't know where to start. I'm not the most reliable person to count on for a reasonable, non-biased, emotional inference-free dissertation on why the death penalty should cease to exist; I've been against the death penalty for as long as I can remember. Before law school, my main reasons were, "Because state-sanctioned murder is inhumane and hypocritical; because 'an eye for an eye' doesn't cut it with me; and because the mere act of the state taking away another person's life should, by logical extension, warrant the imposition of the death penalty on whoever meted out that sentence."
I admit, the last reasoning is rather clumsy and it probably only makes sense to me, but that's what I stood by two, three years ago, and it's what I stand by now. So now I'm in law school and SLS has taught me more in 13 weeks about how the Singapore Legal System works than anything I've managed to pick up in my entire life...and my main reason for opposing the death penalty is still the same: because it is morally repugnant.
Maybe I'm too soft, maybe I'm not looking at the big picture, but I couldn't watch Shanmugam Murugesu's mother cry the way she did, loud and uncontrolled sobs, for the son the state murdered whom she'd never get back and not hold back my own tears. And she kept asking, "Why did they do this?"
Can a lame excuse of "oh, it's because we have to protect Singapore society from the evils of drug consumption!" possibly or even remotely suffice to dull such pain, one that I, or anyone reading this right now for that matter, can't even begin to fully comprehend? We can sit back and say, "Well, her son committed a crime and thus he had to pay the price", tell ourselves comforting brain-washing half-truths that clumsily string together random phrases such as "deterrence" and "public policy" and "the good of society", but at the end of the day the issue isn't whether or not punishment should be escaped; it's the legitimacy of the punishment meted out to the offender, and how that punishment is grossly disproportionate to the crime.
George Yeo wrote, in his reply to Australia's plead for clemency on Nguyen Tuong Van's behalf, "We, on our part in Singapore, have a responsibility to protect the people of Singapore from the scourge of drug addiction, which has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families." Two things sprang to mind when I read that:
One - The last I checked, Shanmugam's mother is still a citizen of this country. She couldn't pay for her son's funeral services and his legal team had to chip in (heck, M. Ravi took it as a pro bono case - which only reflects upon the sad state of criminal defence in this country, and to add insult to injury, the Straits Times wrote a completely retarded article on M. Ravi dredging up irrelevant tidbits of his past whose intention to defame was pretty clear to me), she's an old woman who now has to take care of two young boys after the family's sole breadwinner had been executed, and is she getting help from the State? OF COURSE NOT. To anticipate such a thoughtful gesture from the state would be giving it way too much credit.
Two - "...which has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families." Delete that bit about drug addiction and let me fill in the blanks for you:
"We have a responsibility to protect the people of Singapore from profit-driven tobacco companies which has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families."
"We have a responsibility to protect the people of Singapore from the detrimental lure of gambling because addiction to gambling...has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families."
"We have a responsibility to protect the people of Singapore from the consumption of alcohol that has led to many instances of drunk driving which has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families."
So do we hang tobacco companies and even smokers for subjecting non-smokers to second-hand smoke, 4D-operators (may I be so bold as to extend this honour to the people that approved the casino thing?), and drunk drivers? What the fuck are you talking about?
More importantly: why are we hanging the pawn and letting the fucking king go scott-free? Where is the justice in that? In fact, how the fuck is that remotely fair?
I think I've mentioned this before, but I sincerely believe that this country's legal system punishes the poor for being poor. Nguyen resorted to drug trafficking out of desperation, and Shanmugam wasn't exactly living in Sixth Avenue. I suppose the people that the two of them represent aren't worthy of legal protection? I suppose their lack of wealth makes them less-important citizens of Singapore? I hope that's not the case, because, boy, talk about unconstitutional! Isn't everyone supposed to be equal before the law?
As a law student on the verge of dropping out I find that seriously disturbing. And there were so many other things raised in those three hours too, that either outraged me or made me want to cry. For the first time in a very, very long while, I genuinely felt passionate about something.
We're not a thinking society; we're so used to mindless and unquestioning acquiescence to authority that we believe almost everything the government tells us. Of course, I'm not saying we should protest for the sake of protesting, but when there is clearly something so obviously wrong with a law and when it concerns something as serious as a human life and the violation of his right to live, something has to be done, the consequences be damned. Just because something "is the law" doesn't mean we have to buy it wholesale, or cover our eyes and pretend that we're "okay".
Because I'm not okay. Maybe I've been spoiled by American legal dramas and idealistic theories of fairness and justice as propounded by Harper Lee in "To Kill A Mockingbird", but when the constitution explicitly states that you have the right to an attorney (okay I couldn't phrase it any way else) and you only see your lawyer six weeks after your arrest, when less than 10% of all accused criminals have access to legal representation, when the very moral authority upon which the state justifies its imposition of the death penalty on drug traffickers is called into question*, when the mere fact that only one very, very learned and expert and god-like judge decides whether or not one should live or die, when the Court of Appeal isn't really the Court of Appeal but the Court to go to if you want your sentence toughened, when the trial process seems to be in total disregard for the sanctity of human life, I don't think you can accuse me of being naive, of being overly receptive of Western ideas, because this isn't about the East versus the West, the age-old bullshit of "if it's from the West, it must be evil/an attempt to get us to subjugate to them." I'm THE biggest anti-colonialism person ever, and yet a significant part of me wishes that some Australians' threat to boycott this country materialise and make a substantial dent on this country's economy. They accuse Asia of being barbaric - and I totally agree.
Or, let's boil it down to simple statistics. Doesn't the fact that Singapore has the highest rate of execution per capita bother anyone? What about the fact that a large percentage of these executions were meted out on drug offenders? What does that say about the "deterrence" value of this retarded punishment?
I'm not discounting the serious problem of drug addiction and the harrowing effects it has on the addict and the addict's family; I'm also not saying that drug traffickers should go scot-free and unpunished. All I'm saying is, the crime does not warrant such a final and extreme form of punishment, because death is irrevocable and you can never be 100% sure that you got the right person; that I can't see any humane reasons against life imprisonment for the Kings and a reasonable jail term for the Pawns; and that, simply put, the death penalty is immoral.
People who know me well should know that I hardly ever play the moral card, but I feel so strongly about this that I'm going against my general rule. It's immoral, period, and I'll accept no room for arguments. And if a person even wants to try shoving that shit along the lines of "it's cheaper to kill than to imprison for life" - OH MY GOD, let's not even go there, for I won't be able to finish expressing my utter disdain and abhorrence for people like that and still sleep by 3 a.m. (It's currently 2.49 a.m.) Even if it may be argued that it's a waste of taxpayers' money, the last I checked the government has always enjoyed a budget surplus. Maybe all that money in its reserves should be put to some good, humane use.
I was also going to talk about press freedom and how that is completely non-existent here thus making SPH the biggest joke with the most not-funny punchline ever, but I'm sleepy and my head hurts so maybe another day.
Lastly, why did I go to the forum? Because I fervently oppose the death penalty, and also for a selfish reason: I'm tired of sleepwalking through life, of letting time whizz by with my eyes half-opened. If I'm going to exist in this world and waste the Earth's already-scarce resources, I better have a good justification for that. If I'm going to stay in law school and waste my time and my parents' money, AND my alleged potential for writing/Literature, I'm not going to allow my beliefs to bend over and be ass-fucked by big corporations and if my LAWR research binder's fact pattern were a real case, there's no way in hell I'd defend Singapura Investments against a vulnerable and obviously over-worked employee. I do have a bit to say about employment law, but it's 2.58 a.m. and I'm quite tired and I should try to sleep even though I know it'd take me an hour or two to fall asleep, judging by how fired-up my brains are right now.
All of a sudden I feel quite motivated to study for SLS. It is, after all, the module that I find most tolerable because the readings - when I actually bother to read them - have been a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable than anything Tort and Contract combined can throw at me. Same applies for lectures, qualifier included.
* ask me about this if you're interested.