Man sentenced to death via Zoom call in Singapore ruling

Clay Curtis
May 22, 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, software company Zoom Communications has had its video conferencing services tapped by various industries across the world that are trying to adjust to remote work, and now, thanks to officials in Singapore, the tech has been used to hand down a death sentence.

Punithan Genasan became the city-state's first person to have a capital punishment sentence delivered remotely after being convicted for his role in a drug deal.

Punithin Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian man, was found to be an accomplice in a heroin trafficking case in 2011.

Although most court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned and will only continue after June 1, hearings for essential cases are being held remotely.

"For the safety of all involved in the proceedings, the hearing for Public Prosecutor v Punithan A/L Genasan was conducted by video-conferencing", the spokesperson for Singapore's Supreme Court said. In a statement to CNET, a spokesperson for Singapore's Supreme Court noted that remote hearings were implemented in an effort to stall the spread of coronavirus.

Ganesan's lawyer Peter Fernando confirmed receiving the verdict through Zoom Call.

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The country is now under lockdown in an effort to curb one of the highest coronavirus rates in Asia. "We have no complaints", Fernando said yesterday. It has defended capital punishment as a deterrent for probably the most severe crimes.

The city-state imposed a partial lockdown in early April after it was hit by a second wave of virus infections sparked by foreign workers living in crowded dormitories. It has reported greater than 29,000 virus instances, among the many highest in Asia, however exclusively 22 deaths. It plans to gradually ease restrictions starting next month.

Human rights campaigners have long argued that the process is too secretive, and say that executions disproportionately target low-level drug mules, while doing little to stop the flow of drugs into the country.

According to the human rights activist group, Amnesty International, Singapore is one of only four other countries that still issue the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

Singapore also retains the mandatory death penalty, in certain circumstances, for murder and drug trafficking, contrary to worldwide safeguards and restrictions on the use of the death penalty.

"It's pretty astounding the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to see his accusers", he told AFP. It is high time the government reviewed its draconian approach and abolished the death penalty once and for all.

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