A group of 17 prisoners in Singapore sentenced to death for various drug offences is seeking a court declaration that the government had acted with discrimination and bias in their prosecution due to their Malay ethnicity, in a historic suit that appears set to renew debate on the treatment of Malays in the city-state.
The convicts, all Singaporeans with the exception of one Malaysian, are represented by M Ravi, a prominent Singaporean lawyer known for handling high-profile cases that frequently ruffle the government’s feathers.
They have named the attorney-general as the defendant, accusing him of breaching a constitutional guarantee on equal treatment under the law, adding that their investigations, trials and convictions under the draconian Misuse of Drugs Act had been arbitrary and based on the “irrelevant factor of our ethnicity”.
A pre-trial conference, or case management, will be held tomorrow to set the trial date.
The prisoners in their suit furnished statistics and graphs on the trend of prosecution for drug offences in Singapore to show how Malays are less likely to have their death sentence quashed or commuted to a jail term upon appeal.
In their joint affidavit sighted by MalaysiaNow, spanning close to 100 pages, they said that Malays sentenced to death are “significantly overrepresented” compared to their share in the population of Singapore.
They said while Singapore’s racial proportion has remained more or less the same over the decades, the same is not the case when it comes to people who are sentenced to death.
“While the ethnic composition of the population has remained very stable, the disparity between the proportion of Malays in the ordinary population and the proportion of Malays who make up those sentenced to death for drug offences has increased over the last decade.
“At the same time, the number of persons of Chinese ethnicity sentenced to death for drug offences has decreased by almost an equivalent amount,” said the plaintiffs in their affidavit issued on Aug 13, which includes extensive official data and statistics.
Malays make up 13.5% of the population in the city-state, where 74.3% are Chinese and 9% are Indians, based on official statistics up to June last year.
Singapore does not release any official numbers on its death row prisoners.
But giving an ethnic breakdown, the plaintiffs said 50 out of 77 people sentenced to death between 2010 and 2021 were Malays, 15 Indians, 10 Chinese and two from other races.
They added that out of the 28 who have had their death sentences commuted, 12 were Chinese and nine were Malays.
They also said that within the same 11-year period, Malays made up 66 of the 120 prosecutions for capital drug offences, where some 76% ended up being handed the death sentence. They said this pointed to a systematic targeting of Malays by the Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore (CNB).
“The plaintiffs claim that the sheer number of prosecutions of Malays for death eligible offences when compared to persons of other ethnicities shows that CNB investigatory practices are targeted towards intercepting offenders from the Malay community, and less towards detecting offenders from other communities, or that a disproportionate number of prosecutions are proceeded with against Malay suspects as opposed to suspects of other ethnicities,” they said.