Singapore has sentenced a drug suspect to death at a court hearing held on the videoconferencing app Zoom because of the city-state’s COVID-19 lockdown, in a decision criticized by a human rights group as callous and inhumane.
Defense lawyer Peter Fernando said the Singaporean Supreme Court announced the penalty to his client, Punithan Genasan of Malaysia, in a virtual hearing on Friday last week.
Genasan was in jail, while Fernando and prosecutors participated in the hearing from different locations.
A spokesperson said that courts have been conducting hearings and delivering judgements remotely to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
The spokesperson, who declined to be identified under court policy, confirmed that Genasan’s case was the first “where a death sentence was pronounced by remote hearing in Singapore.”
Singapore is not the first nation to do so. Human Rights Watch said that a man in Nigeria was also sentenced to death via Zoom earlier this month, reportedly for murder.
“This has been the arrangement made by the court ... with essential hearings conducted via Zoom. We have no complaints,” Fernando said on Wednesday.
He said he would meet Genasan today to discuss an appeal.
The court ruled that Genasan, 37, was involved in drug trafficking in October 2011.
Court documents showed the judge found that he recruited two drug couriers, and directed them to transport and deliver 28.5g 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.
Human Rights Watch said the death penalty is already cruel and inhumane.
“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,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
He said it raised concerns about why Singapore is rushing to conclude the case via Zoom.
Amnesty International urged Singapore to abolish capital punishment altogether.
“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,” Amnesty International death penalty adviser Chiara Sangiorgio said.
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