TODAY Online - Significant support for death penalty: Reach poll

The poll found that 80 per cent of the respondents felt that the death penalty should be retained, while 10 per cent said it should be abolished


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A poll by government feedback unit REACH found significant support for the death penalty, with support especially strong for having the death penalty as the maximum punishment for those convicted for violent crimes such as murder, but less so for drug trafficking.

And 80 per cent of the respondents felt that the death penalty should be retained, while 82 per cent agreed that it was an important deterrent that helped keep Singapore safe from serious crimes.

The survey was conducted in June, a month after a last-ditch attempt by lawyers to save convicted murderer Kho Jabing from the gallows.

A sample of 1,160 randomly-selected Singapore residents aged 15 and above were surveyed over the phone. Where the sample was not demographically representative of the national population, it was weighted accordingly to ensure representativeness, said REACH.

The poll found that 80 per cent of the respondents felt that the death penalty should be retained, while 10 per cent said it should be abolished. The remaining 10 per cent either did not give a definitive answer, or refused to answer.

Asked if they generally supported the death penalty, 57 per cent said they did, while 23 per cent said “it depends”, and 13 per cent were opposed to it.

There was greater support for the death penalty among the higher educated, with 68 per cent of those holding university or post-graduate qualifications expressing support, compared to 49 per cent of those holding secondary school-level qualifications.

Among those who generally supported the death penalty, there was a higher degree of support for the death penalty as the maximum sentence for violent crimes such as murder (81 per cent), using a firearm to commit a serious offence (78 per cent), and arms trafficking (74 per cent).

In comparison, the level of support for drug trafficking was 67 per cent.

The death penalty laws here were revised in 2012, such that judges now have the discretion to sentence those convicted of drug trafficking or murder to life imprisonment, subject to conditions.

For murder cases, the discretionary sentence applies to those who committed murder but did not intend to kill. For drug-related cases, the death sentence is lifted for drug couriers who have either been certified to have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau, or proven to be mentally impaired.

The death penalty came into the spotlight in May, when Kho, who killed a Chinese construction worker in 2008, was executed after he had gone before the Court of Appeal five times. The final challenges were mounted days before the execution was due to take place, and the lawyers drew criticism from the Attorney-General’s Chambers for abusing court processes and demonstrating “legal opportunism”.

Commenting on the findings, writer Kirsten Han, who has campaigned against the death penalty, said that governments have the power to lead when it comes to human rights issues. “When governments make the first move in retreating from or abolishing the death penalty, public opinion then follows,” she said.

She also questioned if the survey respondents were fully aware of how the death penalty works in Singapore, noting that while support for the death penalty for drug trafficking was the lowest, most of the executions in Singapore are for drug trafficking.

Urging a more comprehensive survey to be done, Ms Han added: “The death penalty is a complex issue, and real-world cases comes with many aspects and factors to consider – this cannot be captured in a survey that merely asks people generally if they would retain the death penalty.”

Source: TODAY Online

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