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Singapore lawyers ordered to pay S$10,000 over ethnic bias suit by Malay death row inmates

This is the latest in a series of legal actions seen by critics as a move to intimidate lawyers challenging the city-state's narrative on capital punishment.

Our Regional Correspondent
2 minute read
Singapore's Supreme Court, which comprises the High Court and Court of Appeal. Photo: AFP
Singapore's Supreme Court, which comprises the High Court and Court of Appeal. Photo: AFP

A Singapore court has ordered two lawyers to pay S$10,000 (RM31,500) in personal costs to the attorney-general over an ethnic discrimination suit filed by 17 Malay death row convicts, in what is seen as the latest in a series of legal actions against rights lawyers challenging the city-state’s stand on capital punishment.

Prominent lawyer M Ravi and Cheng Kim Kuan had filed a summons on behalf of 17 prisoners in Singapore sentenced to death for various drug offences, seeking a declaration that the government had acted with discrimination and bias in their prosecution due to their Malay ethnicity.

In their suit filed last year, the convicts, all Singaporeans with the exception of one Malaysian, named the attorney-general as the defendant, accusing him of breaching a constitutional guarantee on equal treatment under the law.

They said the investigations, as well their trials and convictions under the draconian Misuse of Drugs Act, had been arbitrary and based on the “irrelevant factor of our ethnicity”.

The suit was however dismissed by the High Court in December last year, which called it an abuse of the court process, logically flawed and speculative.

The attorney-general subsequently filed a suit seeking costs from Ravi and Cheng, saying the suit was filed by the duo without his consent and that it was therefore “wrongly commenced”.

In his judgment today, High Court judge Kannan Ramesh attacked Ravi for “improper” conduct.

“Mr Ravi’s etiquette as an advocate and solicitor fell below the expected standard,” he said, adding that Ravi had pursued the suit even when told that it had not received consent from the attorney-general.

“There is no doubt that Mr Ravi’s conduct caused the attorney-general to incur unnecessary costs.

“The attorney-general was therefore compelled to litigate the matter and incur costs, including the costs of SUM 4742,” the judgement said, referring to the originating summons by the 17 prisoners.

The 17 are Syed Suhail Syed Zin, Moad Fadzir Mustaffa, Hamzah Ibrahim, Norasharee Gous, Nazeri Lajim, Rosman Abdullah, Roslan Bakar, Masoud Rahimi Merzad, Zamri Mohd Tahir, Fazali Mohamed, Rahmat Karimon, Ramdhan Lajis, Jumaat Mohamed Sayed, Muhammad Faizal Mohd Shariff, Abdul Rahim Shapiee, Muhammad Salleh Hamid and Mohammad Reduan Mustaffar.

In their affidavit sighted by MalaysiaNow last year, they said that Malays sentenced to death were “significantly overrepresented” compared to their share in the population of Singapore.

It also noted that 50 out of 77 people sentenced to death between 2010 and 2021 were Malays, 15 Indians, 10 Chinese and two from other races.

They further said that out of the 28 who had had their death sentences commuted, 12 were Chinese and nine were Malays.

Some 90% of those currently on death row in Singapore are ethnic Malays and Indians, whose communities combined make up just over 20% of the population.

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 2020.

Singapore does not release official numbers on its death row prisoners.

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