A man in Singapore was awarded death sentence via a Zoom video-call for the crime involving a drug deal, the city-state’s first case where capital punishment has been delivered remotely.
The convict, Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, got the death penalty for his role in a 2011 heroin transaction on Friday, court documents showed, with the country under lockdown to try and curb one of the highest coronavirus rates in Asia.
“For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing,” a spokesperson for Singapore’s Supreme Court said in response to Reuters’ questions, citing restrictions imposed to minimize virus spread.
It was the first criminal case where a death sentence was pronounced by remote hearing in Singapore. Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, said his client received the judge’s verdict on a Zoom call and is considering an appeal.
Rights groups have criticized the use of Zoom in capital cases. Meanwhile, Fernando said 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 heard clearly, and no other legal arguments were presented. The California-based tech firm Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore.
Many court hearings in Singapore were adjourned during a lockdown period that started in early April and is expected to be in force until June 1, while cases deemed essential have been held remotely. There is a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs in Singapore and has hanged hundreds of people — including dozens of foreigners — for narcotics offences 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 criticized a similar case in Nigeria where a death sentence was delivered via Zoom.