Singapore hangs first woman in 19 years amidst activist outrage, more executions on horizon

Despite international protests, Singapore carried out its first female execution in nearly two decades on July 28, marking the second capital punishment case this week tied to drug trafficking. Activist groups are sounding alarms as another execution is slated for the coming week. In 2018, 45-year-old Saridewi Djamani was condemned to death for trafficking approximately 31 grams of pure heroin, also known as diamorphine, according to a statement from the Central Narcotics Bureau. The agency claimed the quantity was “adequate to sustain the addiction of nearly 370 users for a week.”

Image used for illustrative purposes, not of actual protests in Singapore

Under Singaporean law, the death penalty is obligatory for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 500 grams of cannabis or 15 grams of heroin. Djamani’s death by hanging occurred merely two days after the execution of a Singaporean male, Mohammed Aziz Hussain, 56, who was found guilty of trafficking about 50 grams of heroin. The narcotics bureau ensured that both convicts were given due process, including appeals of their conviction and sentence, and petitions for presidential clemency.

However, calls for a halt to capital punishment for drug offenses have intensified, coming from human rights organizations, international activists, and the United Nations. They argue that evidence increasingly shows its ineffectiveness as a deterrent. Singaporean authorities, on the other hand, insist on capital punishment’s importance in curtailing drug demand and supply.

According to human rights organizations, since Singapore resumed executions in March 2022, it has executed 15 individuals for drug-related offenses, averaging one per month. Anti-death penalty campaigners recall that the last woman to face the gallows in Singapore was Yen May Woen, a 36-year-old hairdresser convicted of drug trafficking, back in 2004.

The Transformative Justice Collective, a Singapore-based group advocating for the abolition of capital punishment, revealed that a new execution order has been issued for another prisoner for August 3, marking the fifth execution this year alone. The group identified the upcoming convict as an ethnic Malay citizen who was working as a delivery driver prior to his 2016 arrest. In 2019, he was convicted for trafficking around 50 grams of heroin.

During his trial, the man claimed he thought he was merely delivering contraband cigarettes for a friend to whom he owed money, never verifying the contents of the bag due to trust in his friend. Despite the court determining him as a courier, the man received the mandatory death penalty. The group strongly condemned “the state’s bloodthirsty streak,” renewing calls for an immediate halt on the use of the death penalty.

Critics argue that Singapore’s stern policy predominantly punishes low-level traffickers and couriers, typically recruited from marginalized, vulnerable groups. They also point out that Singapore’s approach is increasingly out of sync with global trends moving away from capital punishment. In contrast, neighboring Thailand has decriminalized cannabis, and Malaysia abolished the mandatory death penalty for severe crimes earlier this year.