Hanging offenders with low IQ – where is mercy?

MohammadIt was nothing but a blip in the news cycle here.

39-year old man hanged for a vicious murder of a 69-year old woman.

He had stabbed her more than 110 times during a robbery in her flat 10 years ago, in 2005.

His brother was also arrested and sentenced to death for being accomplice to the crime – but he was later found not guilty and was released.

It all looks like any other “normal” case of murder – until you realise that the man in question, Mohammad bin Kadar, has an IQ of just 76, which is below average for an ordinary person.

He had appealed his sentence but it was rejected by the appeals court.

His petition for presidential clemency was also rejected by President Tony Tan.

And so, on early Friday morning, 17 April 2015, Mohammad was finally hanged in Changi Prison.

A 10-year case comes to an end – and very few people care or are even aware of his case.

Is it right for the state to hang someone who apparently is of diminished disposition intellectually?

Furthermore, according to anti-death penalty activists, Mohammad “was under the influence of Dormicum when he entered the flat of Mdm Tham Weng Kuen” and repeatedly assaulted her.

Interestingly, Singapore amended the law in 2012 to give judges discretion to sentence convicts of murder and drug trafficking cases to life in prison or the death penalty.

Before the amendments, death was mandatory for such cases.

Under the Penal Code,  those who are found to be of “abnormality of mind” can also offer “diminished responsibility” as a defence. (See here.)

Be that as it may, and I won’t go into the details of the legal argument, what troubles me more is the moral question – why did the President not find Mohammad worthy or deserving of a pardon, given his circumstances?

During the debate on the changes to the mandatory death penalty provisions in Parliament, Law Minister K Shanmugam mentioned the word “mercy” twice, when he explained the changes.

“Our cardinal objectives remain the same. Crime must be deterred. Society must be protected against criminals. But justice can be tempered with mercy and where appropriate, offenders should be given a second chance.”

And later. he added:

“This change will ensure that our sentencing framework properly balances the various objectives: justice to the victim, justice to society, justice to the accused, and mercy in appropriate cases.”

The question then is: why was Mohammad not deemed deserving of mercy?

Mohammad has thus become the first person to be hanged in Singapore after the amendments to the law was made.

As a Singaporean, I cannot be proud of the execution of people, and it saddens me even more when the person executed is someone like Mohammad.

But this is not the first time we have hanged someone of low IQ.

The case of Rozman Bin Jusoh should never be forgotten.

The then 22-year old Malaysian, who had an IQ of 74, was reportedly entrapped by anti-narcotics officers in 1993.

He was subsequently found guilty of drug trafficking and was duly hanged.

You can read his story here.

While giving judges the discretion to mete out punishments is a good thing (and in fact should be a normal thing), what we may want to also look into is how those who are considered “lesser” than the average person is treated in the criminal justice system.

Even if Mohammad had been spared and had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and the mandatory 15 strokes of the cane, would that also be acceptable, or humane?

Would that be merciful?



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