A heroin smuggler has become the first convicted drug trafficker in Singapore to avoid a death sentence following reforms in the application of capital punishment, officials said yesterday.
Singaporean Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim, 30, was saved from the gallows because he was a mere courier and assisted the police in disrupting the activities of drug traffickers, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said.
Abdul Haleem was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison as well as 24 strokes of the cane, an additional punishment imposed for serious offences. Ironically, Abdul Haleem pleaded to be hanged too when told that his co-accused would be executed.
Until the legal reforms took effect this year, Singapore judges had no choice but to impose death by hanging on people found to be trafficking in drugs above specific limits.
For heroin dealers, anyone found trafficking in more than 15 grams faced the mandatory death penalty under the old system.
Abdul Haleem and a friend were found in possession of at least 72.5 grams of the drug when they were arrested in 2010, prosecutors said.
The mandatory death penalty had long been denounced by human rights groups which say most traffickers caught and executed are just low-level couriers.
The AGC said in a statement that Abdul Haleem satisfied two requirements for a judge to spare him from execution: he was just a courier and he provided "substantive assistance" to police in the fight against the drugs trade.
But his friend Muhammad Ridzuan Muhammad Ali, 28, was sentenced to be hanged because he did not meet the criteria, said the AGC.
Under the legal reforms, judges are given a small degree of discretion to impose a jail term rather than the death penalty if a convict meets certain requirements which must be certified by the AGC.
The sentencing of the pair on Wednesday set off a courtroom drama when Abdul Haleem demanded to be hanged along with his friend.
"If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I'd rather go down with him," Abdul Haleem told Justice Tay Yong Kwang.
The judge replied: "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not."