Such was the case for Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian man who was sentenced Friday to death by hanging for masterminding a 2011 heroin transaction between two drug couriers in Singapore, a city-state known for having a zero tolerance policy for illicit drugs.
A spokesperson for Singapore’s Supreme Court told Reuters for a Wednesday article that the decision to hand down Gensasn’s sentencing in such a manner was made to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is believed to be the first instance in which remote communications technology was used to deliver a death sentence in Singapore.
Peter Fernando, Genasan’s lawyer, told the publication that he did not have any objections to the use of the technology, explaining that all legal arguments had concluded in the case and that the judge was heard clearly throughout the final legal proceedings.
However, contrary to Fernando’s stance, the video call sentencing has been widely criticized by human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
“The death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and Singapore’s use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so,” Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, told Gizmodo via email on Wednesday. “It’s shocking 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 confront his accusers.”
“The absolute finality of the sentence, and the reality that wrongful convictions do occur around the world in death sentence cases, raise serious concerns about why Singapore is rushing to conclude this case via Zoom,” he continued.
“Singapore tries to hide from the world that it executes scores of people every year, but by remotely sentencing a man to die in this case, they have brought back welcome attention to their inherently rights violating practices.”
According to Amnesty International, a total of 657 executions were recorded in 20 countries in 2019, and of those cases, four occurred in Singapore - a sharp drop when compared to the 13 executions ordered there the year prior.
Amnesty noted that the 2019 figures marked the first time in nearly 10 years that the Asia-Pacific region saw a decline in the number of countries carrying out death sentences.
Speaking on the Genasan case, Chiara Sangiorgio, the death penalty adviser for Amnesty, issued a statement blasting Singapore for defying international standards and calling for the city-state to end its use of the death penalty.
“This case is another reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking, and as a mandatory punishment,” reads the statement.
“At a time when the global attention is focused on saving and protecting lives in a pandemic, the pursuit of the death penalty is all the more abhorrent.”
Genasan’s sentencing via Zoom comes just weeks after a Nigerian judge used the same software to hand down a death sentence against Olalekan Hameed, who was found guilty of the murder of his employer’s mother. At the time, the BBC reported that it was unclear if an appeal would be filed in the case.
As for Genasan, his lawyer told Reuters that his client is considering appealing the verdict. Zoom has not yet commented on the court’s use of its video services.