A man has been sentenced to death in Singapore via a Zoom video-call for his part in a drug deal, the city-state’s first case where capital punishment has been performed remotely.
Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy for prohibited drugs and has hanged hundreds of people – including dozens of foreigners – for narcotics crimes over past decades, rights groups say.
“Singapore’s use of the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. HRW has also examined a similar case in Nigeria where a death sentence was delivered via Zoom.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, got the sentence for his role in a 2011 heroin transaction on Friday, court documents revealed, with the country under lockdown to try and control one of the highest coronavirus rates in Asia.
“For the protection of all included in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was led by video-conferencing,” a spokesperson for Singapore’s Supreme Court said in response to Reuters’ questions, ordering restrictions imposed to minimize virus spread.
It was the first criminal case where a death sentence was declared by remote hearing in Singapore, the spokesperson added.
Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, told his client to receive the judge’s verdict on a Zoom call and is considering an appeal.
While rights groups have criticized the use of Zoom in capital cases, Fernando told he did not object to the use of video-conferencing for Friday’s call since it was only to receive the judge’s verdict, which could be understood clearly, and no other legal arguments were conferred.
California-based tech firm Zoom did not immediately reply to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore. The Attorney General’s Chambers, the public prosecutor, referred Reuters’ questions to the Supreme Court.
Many court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned during a lockdown period that began in early April and is due to run until June 1, while cases considered essential have been held remotely.