Responding to misguided accusations – no, we do not want traffickers to go unpunished

Since the publication of this article on publichouse.sg, “The hanging of Muhammad Ridzuan – a family left to pick up the pieces”, (which have been read by a surprising number of people), some have accused the website of arguing for drug traffickers to not be punished, or to be allowed to go scot-free.

It is a bewildering accusation as nowhere in the article does it make such a call.

But it is not a new accusation. Every time an article appears which calls for the abolition of the death penalty in Singapore, or when an article (such as the one in question here) depicts the situation of the families of drug traffickers, some people jump to the extreme and unfounded – and yes, completely ignorant – accusation that we want drug traffickers to get away unpunished.

This is an accusation made even by ministers, at least implicitly, if not blatantly.

And then there are also others who think we should take on the role of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), such as one “Marsie TP” who posted this ludicrous challenge:

And that is exactly part of the problem – an irrational, knee-jerk reaction to what are serious issues, belittling the sufferings of families of traffickers, as if they have forfeited all rights to compassion simply because they are related to couriers or mules.

It reminds one of a certain ex-Nominated Member of Parliament calling for the children of terrorists to be killed… just in case they grow up to be terrorists themselves. Guilt by association, nevermind rationality.

It is a childish way of thinking.

So let’s put it in record. I do not speak for others but only for myself.

No, I do not think or feel or want drug traffickers to go unpunished. Far from it. I agree that the punishment should be severe, and must reflect the serious consequences of drug trafficking which devastate the lives of families and the person himself.

At the same time, I do not feel drug trafficking is so heinous a crime as to warrant the death sentence.

Both the United Nations and the European Union do not recognise drug trafficking as such a crime either.

Also, drug trafficking is not, generally and most times, a violent crime in itself.

Some say well, drugs affect and destroy the lives of those who engage in them. This is true – but we need to be specific here and look at how drugs is consumed, or taken by the addict.

The addict does so with total free choice.

Drugs can only be imbibed in a few ways: through snorting up the nose, through needle injections, and through inhalation.

All of these methods can only happen if the addict himself voluntarily does it.

No one can force drugs into his body.

So, at the risk of sounding uncompassionate, the truth is that drug addicts must also take the responsibility of being addicted to drugs.

As one ex-drug addict told me recently: “No one put a knife to my neck and forced me to take drugs. I did it myself. This is why there is supply – when there is demand from people like us.”

As another friend of mine posted on her Facebook page:

“[To] all those who support the death penalty for drug traffickers and whose argument is that they have a choice and choose to commit the offence despite knowing the consequences… well the drug addicts have a choice too and they choose to take drugs despite the consequences to themselves and their families so if you have no sympathy for drug traffickers you should not have any sympathy for drug addicts either.”

Should we then hang all addicts and traffickers? Would this not be the best deterrence of which the government claims is what the death penalty does?

Of course we do not hang everyone. For addicts, we rehabilitate them, and punish them with jail terms as well.

So, why can’t we do the same for the traffickers, especially when most of the traffickers caught are mere couriers, and not the kingpins of the trade?

Would life imprisonment, with possibility of parole after say 20 years, not be appropriate?

Must we take their lives?

These are questions we need to seriously ask, because we must realise that hanging, or killing, couriers and traffickers leaves another set of victims – that of the families, such as that of Muhammad Ridzuan.

They are often as innocent as the families of addicts. So, why do they deserve a lifetime of pain?

Remember that addicts have a chance of being rehabilitated and thus have a second chance on life.

Why should traffickers, especially those who are mere mules or couriers, not be given the same?

The only reason which the government has offered so far is that of deterrence. But the government has not produced one iota of evidence to show that the death sentence does indeed have a deterrent effect.

On the contrary, there is indication that drug addiction is on the rise in Singapore, despite our tough penal regime.

Perhaps instead of hiding behind unsubstantiated and nebulous claims of deterrence, we should consider if there are better ways of dealing with the problem.

For example, why has there not been a concerted effort by ASEAN to deal with the sources of drugs itself (in the so-called Golden Triangle area, which produces much of the world’s drug supply)?

If Singapore is serious about curbing the spread of drugs in our region, then it is high time it pushed for ASEAN member countries to do more.

Singapore will chair the association next year (2018), and it would be a good time for it to push such an agenda, and show that it is willing to do more to get at the sources of the drugs, and to go after the kingpins of the trade – and not just make examples out of mere mules by killing them while leaving the kingpins untouched.

Again, I am not calling for the mules to go unpunished. I am saying that if you do not even make much effort to go after the kingpins, then you really do not have much ground to stand on with your claim to deterrence.

I mean, you think hanging Muhammad Ridzuan will deter the kingpins from sending the next bunch of desperate, illiterate mules who come from poor backgrounds from some obscure kampongs in some third world countries?

If that were so, the drug problem would have been solved eons ago.

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