SINGAPORE:A man has been sentenced to death in Singapore via a Zoom video-call for his role in a drug deal, the city-state’s first case where capital punishment has been delivered remotely.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, received the sentence for his role in a 2011 heroin transaction on Friday, court documents showed, with the country under lockdown to try and curb one of the highest coronavirus rates in Asia.
“For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing,” a spokesperson for Singapore’s Supreme Court said,citing restrictions imposed to minimise virus spread.
It was the first criminal case where a death sentence was pronounced by remote hearing in Singapore, the spokesperson added.
Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, said his client received the judge’s verdict on a Zoom call and is considering an appeal.
While rights groups have criticised the use of Zoom in capital cases, Fernando said he did not object to the use of video-conferencing for Friday’s call since it was only to receive the judge’s verdict, which could be heard clearly, and no other legal arguments were presented.
California-based tech firm Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore. The Attorney General’s Chambers, the public prosecutor, referred Reuters’ questions to the Supreme Court.
Many court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned during a lockdown period that started in early April and is due to run until June 1, while cases deemed essential have been held remotely.
Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and has hanged hundreds of people – including dozens of foreigners – for narcotics offences over past decades, rights groups say.
“Singapore’s use of the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. HRW has also criticised a similar case in Nigeria where a death sentence was delivered via Zoom.
Genesan was found to be complicit in trafficking at least 28.5g of heroin by introducing the two couriers to each other in 2011 and instructing one to drive into Singapore to meet the other.
He left Singapore on the day he introduced the duo – Malaysian V. Shanmugam Veloo and Singaporean Mohd Suief Ismail – and was eventually extradited to Singapore on Jan 21, 2016, five days after he was arrested in Malaysia.
Punithan denied any connection to the pair and disputed their testimonies that he had recruited them to transport drugs, linked them up and arranged the transaction.
He called a friend and his wife as witnesses to support his claim.
But his alibi defence was rejected by High Court judge Chan Seng Onn, who pronounced the mandatory death penalty in a hearing on video-conferencing platform Zoom.
Justice Chan said the couriers had given detailed and cogent accounts of their relationships with Punithan. In contrast, Punithan was unable to explain how the couriers knew personal details about him.
The couriers were convicted in 2015. Shanmugam, then 30, was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane while Suief, then 46, was sentenced to death.
During Punithan’s trial, which started in January 2018, the court heard how he had recruited them separately.
On Oct 12, 2011, Punithan introduced the two at the carpark of McDonald’s at West Coast Park.
On Oct 27, 2011, Punithan took possession of the car for a few hours before returning it to Shanmugam in Johor.
The next day, Shanmugam drove the car to Singapore and picked up Suief at a bus stop at Haw Par Villa. Punithan then phoned Suief and told him to deliver three of the 10 bundles of heroin that were in the car.
Punithan claimed that he never met the pair on Oct 12 as he was collecting a debt with his friend, Gobi Krishna Karuppiah.
He also claimed he could not have passed the car to Shanmugam as he was in Kedah celebrating Deepavali with his family. Justice Chan accepted that Punithan was in Singapore to collect a debt, but said there was ample time for him to meet the couriers that day.