A man has been sentenced to death in Singapore via a Zoom video call for his role in a drug deal, in the first case in the city-state where such a decision has been delivered remotely.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, received the sentence on Friday for his role in a 2011 heroin transaction, 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 in response to Reuters’ questions, 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 was considering an appeal.
While Rights groups have criticised the use of Zoom in capital cases around the world, Fernando said he did not object to the use of video-conferencing for Friday’s call because it was only to receive the judge’s verdict with no further legal arguments to be heard.
“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.
Singapore, which has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs, is one of only four countries known to still execute people for drug-related offences, according to Amnesty International.
“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,” said the group’s death penalty adviser, Chiara Sangiorgio.
Four people were executed in the city-state last year, compared with 13 in 2018.
Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore.
A similar case in Nigeria, where a man was sentenced to death via Zoom for murdering his employer’s mother, has also been criticised by rights groups.