A Malaysian man sentenced to death in Singapore on the basis of a disputed murder reconstruction remains at imminent risk of execution and must be granted clemency, Amnesty International said after he was given a last-minute reprieve today.
Kho Jabing, 31, was due to be hanged tomorrow morning despite a lack of clarity about the circumstances of his crime and the fact his death sentence was re-imposed at the final stage in a 3:2 split decision.
He has been temporarily spared from death to allow the court to consider a last-minute appeal put forward on Kho Jabing's behalf. It is not clear at this stage when the case will be heard.
“Today’s stay of execution is no doubt a great relief for Kho Jabing and his loved ones, but it is only the first step,” said Josef Benedict, Campaigns Director for South East Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International.
“The judges made their life-and-death decision despite significant uncertainty over the case and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong must follow up this temporary reprieve by immediately granting him clemency, before it is too late.”
In 2010 Kho Jabing and a co-defendant were charged with murder, punishable at the time by the mandatory death penalty.
After Singapore reviewed its mandatory death penalty laws in 2012 and allowed sentencing discretion for unintentional murder, the High Court resentenced Kho Jabing to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane, but the prosecution appealed.
At Kho Jabing’s resentencing, the five-judge bench unanimously established that the death penalty should be imposed if the murder exhibited “viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life”.
However, despite all five Supreme Court judges agreeing that there was not enough evidence available in Kho Jabing’s case to allow for a precise reconstruction of the murder, they failed to agree whether it was possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the murder was particularly “vicious”.
Three judges found that his actions did deserve to be punished by death, while the other two held that the evidence available did not prove that he had hit the victim more than twice, necessary to meet the criteria for “blatant disregard”.
The death penalty was therefore re-imposed with a narrow three-to-two majority by the Court of Appeal.
“Even the country’s top court was divided on whether Kho Jabing’s crimes warranted the death penalty under Singapore law,” said Josef Benedict.
“Despite this reprieve the threat of execution lingers on, undermining positive steps taken by the Singaporean authorities to reduce the use of the death penalty.”
Amnesty International has recorded a significant decrease in the number of executions in Singapore, which once had one of the highest execution rates in the world, relative to its population.
In the past five years, seven executions have been announced by the authorities. In 2012 an official moratorium on executions was established to allow for a review of the country’s mandatory death penalty laws.
Following the adoption of legislative amendments in November 2012, Singapore courts have the discretion not to impose the death penalty in certain circumstances. At least 13 people have had their death sentences commuted by the courts after their cases were reviewed in line with the reforms.
“The lack of agreement over Kho Jabing’s sentence is yet another example of why the death penalty must end. The Singaporean authorities must immediately re-impose an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty for good,” said Josef Benedict.
The last execution announced in Singapore was carried out on 17 April 2015 for intentional murder, an offence which still carries the mandatory death penalty.
As of today, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Three countries – Fiji, Madagascar, and Suriname – abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2015. One more US state, Nebraska, also became abolitionist in 2015 and the Governor of Pennsylvania established an official moratorium on executions earlier this year.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.