13 Apr 2005

Half inmates of Singapore jails are drug offenders

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -

Drug offenders make up more than half of Singapore's jail population, prison authorities said on Wednesday, underlining the affluent island's severe and toughly enforced drug laws.
Prison authorities said 55 percent of the Southeast Asian city-state's prison population had been convicted of drug offences. The Straits Times daily estimated the jail population at about 15,623 at the end of 2004, down from 18,213 in 2002.

Police routinely conduct islandwide raids on nightclubs and karaoke lounges. Even if they fail to turn up drugs, suspects can be arrested if a urine sample tests positive for a range of drugs -- from marijuana to cocaine and methamphetamines such as "ice".

Last week, police arrested 150 suspected drug offenders in a 24-hour sweep.

Anyone aged 18 or over convicted of carrying more than 15 grams (0.5 ounce) of heroin, or 30 grams (1.1 ounces) of cocaine, 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of cannabis or 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of methamphetamines faces execution by hanging.

Several foreigners were arrested last October, including 35-year-old British-born magazine editor Nigel Bruce Simmonds and a Tunisian restaurant marketing manager, in a rare high-society drug scandal.

Authorities say Singapore's tough laws are reducing drug use.

Drug arrests fell for a second straight year in 2004, dropping 47 percent from 2003, following police campaigns targeting drugs popular at nightclubs, police said in February.

Thailand as well as neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia are also confronting rising synthetic drug use -- from ecstasy to more toxic methamphetamines such as ice or ketamine, intended originally as a horse tranquilliser and often known just as "K".

Synthetic club drugs overtook heroin in 2003 as the drug of choice in the affluent city-state of 4.2 million people. In the same year, young ethnic Chinese outnumbered Malays as the biggest group of drug abusers for the first time in 15 years.

Singapore has executed about 400 people since 1991, giving it the highest execution rate in the world relative to population, according to rights group Amnesty International

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