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Singapore slammed for ‘cruel’ Zoom death sentence

Singapore has been criticised for being “cruel and inhumane” after a death sentence was handed down via video-conferencing platform Zoom.

Malaysian drug trafficker Punithan Genasan was Friday sentenced to hang in a hearing conducted remotely due to restrictions in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus, court officials said.

The 37-year-old had been found guilty over the trafficking of at least 28.5 grams of heroin, a crime punishable by death under the city-state’s tough anti-drugs laws.

The Supreme Court said that it was the first criminal case where a death sentence was handed down in a remote hearing.

Zoom has become popular during virus lockdowns worldwide for everything from virtual school classes to business meetings — but Human Rights Watch criticised its use to mete out capital punishment.

“The death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and Singapore’s use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so,” said the group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

“It’s pretty astounding 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 see his accusers,” he said.

The Supreme Court said that the hearing was conducted remotely “for the safety of all involved in the proceedings”.

Singapore maintains that the death penalty — a legacy of British colonial rule — is necessary as a deterrent against crime although rights groups have long called for it to be abolished.

Like many other countries, Singapore has ordered the closure of most businesses, advised people to stay at home to fight the virus.

The city-state managed to keep its outbreak in check in the early stages but was hit by a second wave of infections, mainly affecting low-paid migrant workers in crowded dormitories.

Singapore has reported over 29 000 infections including 22 deaths.

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