The Straits Times
Publication Date : 2006-02-12
Almost everyone here, both young and old and of every race and education level, supports the death penalty for heinous crimes, a survey shows.
Nine in 10 also want the hard line to be taken against any foreigner who commits a crime that carries the death penalty. He should not be spared even if his country does not give the death sentence for the crime, they said in a Sunday Times survey.
Their responses are significant because the survey was carried out three weeks after Singapore hanged Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van amid widespread protests in Australia.
The Home Affairs Ministry said that 35 people have been hanged over the last three years, most of them for drug trafficking.
The survey, done between Dec 23 and 28, also debunks notions that the younger or more educated would be less supportive of the death penalty.
On the contrary, it shows a graduate in his 20s is as likely to back capital punishment as someone in his 50s with below secondary education.
The survey of 425 Singaporeans and permanent residents, aged 20 and older, shows 96 per cent support the death penalty. Most also want it to remain mandatory for the crimes of murder, drug trafficking and the use of firearms.
The majority also want to keep the death sentence as the maximum penalty for acts of treason and kidnapping.
More than two-thirds want the death penalty introduced as the maximum sentence for those who plan or carry out terrorist attacks.
These people, who were interviewed face-to-face at their homes, believe the death penalty is effective in three ways:
-It deters others from committing the same crimes;
-Keeps the country safe and crime-free; and
-Is just punishment for those who carry out heinous acts.
And the majority want Singapore to stand its ground on this issue, regardless of what other countries do.
Almost three quarters say Singapore should not review its stand even if more countries do away with the death penalty.
The younger people are far more open to a review if circumstances change, according to the poll done by the marketing planning and development (research) department of Singapore Press Holdings.
About half of those aged 20 to 29 want a review if more people here oppose the death penalty, compared to one third among the fortysomethings and one quarter among those aged 50 and over.
If more countries decide to abolish capital punishment, 44 per cent of the twentysomethings think Singapore should review its stand but only 22 per cent of people older than 40 would agree to it.
Law professor Michael Hor said the timing of the survey could have contributed to the extremely high levels of support for the death penalty.
"Studies elsewhere have shown, for example, that if death penalty polls are carried out soon after a sensational and well-publicised murder, the approval rates are likely to be significantly higher," he said.
The 15 people in the poll who oppose the death penalty do so for three main reasons:
-They believe people deserve a chance to repent;
-They worry that innocent people could be executed; and
-Other countries have done away with the death penalty.
Entrepreneur Jane Ang, 35, counts herself among this small minority.
"I believe in the sanctity of life. I don't think you can put a price on any person's life, no matter what they've done," she said.
Criminal lawyer Shashi Nathan, a founding member of the Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore, said he cannot see how the death penalty deters murders.
"Most murders, I would say 90 per cent, are crimes of passion. In the heat of the moment, you just don't think about what the penalty for your crime is," he said.
But he does acknowledge that the death penalty may act as a deterrent "to some extent for drug trafficking".
Sinapan Samydorai, president of civil rights group Think Centre, puts the overwhelming support for the death penalty to an "overall lack of human rights understanding".
"People think if you kill one to protect many, it then becomes justifiable without considering whether killing the person is morally right or wrong."
In its response to the survey findings, the Ministry of Home Affairs said Singapore does not mete out the death penalty lightly and imposes it only for the most serious of crimes.
The number hanged each year fell from 19 in 2003 to eight last year.
The ministry said: "We weigh the rights of offenders against the rights of victims and the rights of the community to live and work in safety and security." The death penalty, it added, deters would-be offenders and has contributed to making Singapore "one of the safest places in the world".