Photos from before the execution in Singapore as activists seek to smooth over a policy that doesn’t work

Hong Kong

Nazira Lajim Hertslet can’t get over the pictures of her brother Nazeri.

“Isn’t he so tall and so handsome,” she said of a series of photos of her 64-year-old grandfather in a suit.

She smiles in one photo, standing against a white floral curtain in some shots it even appears as playful. But this was not a happy occasion.

These were the last pictures taken of Nazeri Bin Lajim before him He was executed in Singapore in July on drug charges.

Arrested in 2012 and convicted of trafficking 33.89 grams of heroin, Nazeri was hanged at dawn – the fifth of 11 inmates sent to the city-state’s gallows so far this year for drug offenses. The last execution was an unnamed 55-year-old Singaporean man who was hanged at the beginning of October, as reported by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

In a statement to CNN, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) said it was allowing inmates to “take photographs in their clothes”. sent by their families”.

“This is done so that family members have the last pictures of their loved one,” SPS said. “It’s up to the prisoner to decide whether or not to take pictures.”

Nazira said the gesture brought her comfort and relief in a system that has caused “so much pain and cruelty”.

“She looks so happy and strong, she must have taken her strength during the shoot.”

Singapore is adamant that the death penalty works to deter drug traffickers and must be in place to maintain public safety. Three reports commissioned and released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) this week outlined “very strong support among Singaporeans” for the use of the death penalty for serious crimes such as drug trafficking. In a study of 2,000 local respondents, more than 70 percent believed executions were more effective than life imprisonment in deterring drug traffickers, the government said.

But while authorities have doubled down on death sentences and executions, activists have pointed to the increasing size and frequency of recent drug busts.

On the same day the local man was executed, police arrested six people in two raids that yielded 104 grams of ketamine, 10 LSD stamps and 2.28 kilograms of cannabis, enough cannabis to “feed the addiction of about 330 offenders a week”. read the CNB statement.

Rocky Howe, a member of the local abolitionist movement Transformative Justice Collective (TJC), said capital convictions have increased, at least 10 this year for drug trafficking, according to his estimates.

“For every life lost, there will be a new trafficker,” Howe added. “We have to stop and ask whether the death penalty is really working to deter people from drug trafficking to Singapore as the government says it is.”

Under Singapore’s Drug Misuse Act, anyone caught trafficking or importing or exporting certain amounts of illegal drugs faces the mandatory death penalty.

The death penalty applies to traffickers who bring methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or cannabis products over a threshold. In Singapore, the threshold for heroin is 15 grams or more. In comparison, under US Federal Trafficking Penalties, first offenders caught trafficking 100 to 999 grams of heroin face 5 to 40 years in prison. Longer and harsher penalties may apply if the dealing results in death or serious injury.

Ministers of Singapore’s ruling party say that the threat of the death penalty is necessary to prevent the city-state from being overrun with drugs in a region that is a major hub for drug trafficking.

In May, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the “scale and reach” of the trade in methamphetamine and synthetic drugs in East and Southeast Asia was “appalling”. In Singapore, methamphetamine was the top drug of concern in 2021, according to a release from the Asia-Pacific Amphetamine Addiction and Information Center (APAIC).

Methamphetamine seizures and use declined that year, APAIC reported, but heroin seizures hit a record high.

“Drug demand indicators also indicate that heroin consumption is on the rise, with expert perceptions of an increase in drug use for the first time since 2012,” the statement said. “The number of drug treatment admissions for heroin also increased, surpassing 500 people for the first time since 2013.”

Despite the death penalty, big Cannabis seizures are also regularly reported in Singapore. A handful of record breaks have made headlines in recent years – the biggest have been more than two. million Singapore dollars ($1.7 million).

In a five-page statement to CNN linked to government-sponsored reports and statistics, Singapore’s MHA said “it would be wrong to conclude that drug cases indicate that trafficking rates continue to grow despite the death penalty.”

“On the contrary, without capital punishment, drug traffickers would be more daring, and would traffic larger quantities of drugs into Singapore,” the statement said.

Until recently, Singapore and some of its closest neighbors were united in their strong support for the war on drugs.

Rights groups consider Vietnam to be one of the region’s biggest executioners.

Executions are a state secret, but in a rare report made public by the Ministry of Security in 2017 and published in state media, it was revealed that between 2013 and 2016, 429 executions were carried out in prisons across the country. The rows are not even known, rights groups say.

After a hiatus in 2021, Myanmar has also carried out executions this year – of two democracy activists who were executed in July after the junta accused them of “terrorist acts” – causing fear and concern for those left behind in prison.

But other countries have followed different paths.

Malaysia, Singapore’s closest neighbour, removed drug trafficking from its list of crimes punishable by death in 2018 and announced moves to abolish the mandatory death penalty in June.

Indonesia, which like Singapore has long executed those convicted of crimes such as terrorism, murder and drug-trafficking, is now considering plans to introduce a “probationary death penalty” that officials say would give judges the power to hand down death sentences with 10-day probation. years if a defendant “shows remorse” or proves that he did not play a major role in the crime committed.

However, Singapore is unlikely to budge on its approach to drugs, which has been crucial to protecting its global reputation as a thriving financial and travel hub, local experts say.

“Every country has the right to choose how to deal with the most serious crimes, including (or not) the death penalty,” said Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University. Tan, who once served as a member of Singapore’s parliament, said courts did not “hand out death sentences lightly”.

“The government’s uncompromising stance on drugs stems from its longstanding commitment to law and order,” Tan said.

And with Singapore being a major transit hub near many drug production centers in the region, Tan said it was “unlikely to follow other countries’ steps to liberalize their drug policies”. “The Singapore government believes that the drug situation will deteriorate rapidly if it relaxes its stance as other countries have done in recent years,” he said.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia, told CNN in May that if Southeast Asian countries want to tackle drug trafficking, they need to change their approach to the problem.

Governments should treat drug use and addiction as a health problem, not a criminal matter, “through public health education, mental hygiene treatment, care and support, rehabilitation and reintegration programs.”

There is also no indication that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to drug trafficking,” added Douglas.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, activists protest outside Singapore's High Commission, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, who has been sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Spokesperson for Amnesty International He noted that “relatively small quantities of drugs” were often charged in criminal cases in Singapore, noting that the convicted traffickers were those with “low-level positions in drug trafficking networks”.

This calls into question whether their deaths will “significantly disrupt the drug trade,” the spokesman said.

But in a statement to CNN, Singapore’s MHA said “first-hand accounts” showed how many traffickers were deliberately trafficking below the legal threshold.

“Drug traffickers know capital punishment, but traffic for money,” said the ministry. “Traffickers make a cynical calculation to traffic drugs for personal gain, ignoring the thousands of lives they would destroy.”

It has been three months since Nazeri’s life ended.

His sister has some pictures of him saved on her phone. “I see pictures every time I miss her,” she said.

“We didn’t ask for it, but it’s a nice gesture,” he said, adding that he asked the family to give them clothes.

“I don’t know how this practice came about, why the pictures were taken, but it shows how (disconnected) the prison and justice system is,” he said.

“At the end of the day, because my brother was killed.”