A 32-year-old Malaysian security guard who said he had accepted a job to courier drugs to help pay for his daughter’s medical fees made history today after the republic’s top court set aside its previous death sentence on him.
Gobi Avedian is the first person in the city-state’s history to escape the death sentence after exhausting all legal avenues including a petition for clemency.
“This is the first case to succeed on account of miscarriage of justice. It is very difficult to get leave to reopen the case in the Court of Appeal,” Gobi’s lawyer M Ravi said moments after the decision was announced.
Ravi said today’s decision means Gobi’s 15-year jail sentence would be reinstated.
He is expected to be released in 2024, having already served six years of the sentence.
Ravi, a rare voice advocating human rights in the republic, accused the Singapore government and the public prosecutors of being overzealous in the case, adding that there were numerous incidents of harassment against him for taking up the case.
“I could have given up any time because of the threats,” he said.
“Why threaten the counsel?” added Ravi, who has been representing death row prisoners on a pro bono basis.
He said Singapore’s law minister K Shanmugam should offer an apology.
“Please apologise to Gobi and his family for what he went through during his appeal process.
“I ask that the law minister apologise to Gobi and review all death penalty cases.”
Gobi is one of dozens of Malaysians who have been sentenced to death under Singapore’s controversial mandatory death penalty law.
He had said during his trial that he was paid a RM500 commission each time he carried a parcel of “chocolate drugs” to customers.
He said he needed the money to help pay for his daughter’s treatment.
Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, anyone caught carrying more than 15g of drugs is sentenced to death.
Last month, MalaysiaNow reported on concerns about the ethnic composition of those on death row.
Numbers compiled independently by rights activists showed that some 90% of those currently on death row in the republic’s prison are ethnic Malays and Indians, whose communities comprise just over 20% of the population.
Of the 55 individuals currently on death row, 30 are Singaporean Malays, 20 are Indians, and five Chinese. Of the 20 ethnic Indians, meanwhile, 15 are Malaysian.
In May, when Singapore imposed a lockdown due to Covid-19, a court sentenced a 37-year-old Malaysian to death in a verdict announced online through Zoom.
The episode sparked condemnation from rights groups.
“The death penalty is always abhorrent, but to deliver this sentence, the harshest a defendant can receive, through the impersonal remoteness of a Zoom video call, is utterly inhumane,” Human Rights Watch said on the case involving Punithan Genasan.
Lawyer Ravi has been at the forefront of last-ditch legal fights by death row prisoners to stay alive.
He is currently involved in 21 cases, of which Gobi’s is the first to succeed.
Ravi said Gobi has expressed his intention to contribute to efforts to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia, a campaign spearheaded by rights group Lawyers for Liberty.