Comment: Death penalty for drug trafficking deters destruction of families in S’pore

A regional study of over 7000 residents across the region showed that majority of the population support the death penalty, especially for drug trafficking.

As much as 96 per cent of these respondents agreed that the death penalty dissuades people from trafficking substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore, showed the study, which was done by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

And as much as 92 per cent of these respondents saw the death penalty as a more effective deterrent against drug trafficking into Singapore than life imprisonment.

These agreements remain strong even at the lowest end: 83 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.  

This strong “I’ll think twice about trafficking drugs over to Singapore” mindset shows that Singapore’s death penalty does actively help deal with the drug issue.

General deterrence, a major objective of having a particular law, is working here: If I traffick drugs to Singapore, I’ll get sentenced to death. No.

The objective of specific deterrence also underpins this: a drug trafficker executed by the death penalty just won’t commit crimes against Singaporeans ever again. Full stop.

Denying power to the drug kingpins.

Singapore must remain drug free, not drug tolerant.

In 2019, Singapore arrested 3,526 people for drug abuse.

This a very low number against an ongoing regional crisis which a headline from The Economist sums up best: South-East Asia is awash in drugs.

Singapore treats these drug abusers as people who really need help as per the Misuse of Drugs Act. Supervision and rehabilitation programmes featuring psychology-based correctional programmes, family programmes and skills training feature during this period. 

This helps these individuals successfully reintegrate into society.

But think about what would happen when Singapore relaxes its drug trafficking laws.

Not least when exchange rates and a strong Singapore dollar mean huge profits for newly-emboldened traffickers in the region. Or even further away, when the cartels of Latin America get wind of any loosening of Singapore’s stance.   

There is the point that Singapore mainly executes low-level drug mules.  That actually, considering the high rate of deterrence, reads as a natural outcome of the strict death penalty.

This penalty deters profit oriented drug kingpins from setting up high-level operations locally, not when their deaths (or their lieutenant’s) are on the line. 

So these cynical drug kingpins then manipulate people into doing things they themselves would not dare to do. Especially since Singapore’s checkpoints locally and overseas have very clear warnings like this in multiple languages all over.

Source: Flickr, Grant Eaton

It is natural that those against the death penalty are aggrieved when Singapore hangs a drug trafficker. No one doing anything for public interest — no one in particular in fact — likes a life lost.

But these anti-death penalty activists speak from a position of privilege.

They do not need to answer to the public. They do not need to answer how drugs make lives worse off for the marginalised. They do not need to answer to families whose lives are ultimately destroyed by drugs.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said in a BBC interview this year summed things up perfectly: “A single hanging of a drug trafficker, to misquote a well-known quote, a single hanging of a drug trafficker is a tragedy; a million deaths from drug abuse is a statistic.”

What they are doing, in the big picture, is empowering drug kingpins who will bind this public-spiritedness to private and amoral interests. More cases of manipulating more people down the drug supply chain then.  

These activists do not need to account for the body count and urban decay that threatens a Singapore lax on drug trafficking.

The Government and Singaporeans do.

Cover photo credit: Pexels, Mart Production