SINGAPORE: Singapore will gauge public attitudes towards the death penalty in a survey, the interior ministry said Wednesday, as human rights groups renewed calls for its abolition.
The city-state — which staunchly maintains that capital punishment is a crime deterrent — executed eight convicts last year, the highest number in a decade, according to official data. They had all committed drug offences.
The Straits Times said it was the first time that the government department in charge of prisons has conducted a survey on the subject.
Last week’s hanging in Singapore of convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Prabu N Pathmanathan sparked fresh calls to scrap capital punishment, a penalty that dates to British colonial rule but has been retained by the city state since independence.
Neighbouring Malaysia, where the cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty, had asked Singapore to spare the 31-year-old convict on humanitarian grounds.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is conducting the survey to give us a better understanding of Singapore residents’ attitudes towards the death penalty,” MHA said in a statement to AFP.
It said the survey is part of the government’s “regular research on our criminal justice system” and involves citizens and permanent residents.
“Participants were randomly selected based on age, race and gender, for a representative sample of the Singapore resident population,” it added.
Some 2,000 respondents will be questioned between October and December by market research consultancy Blackbox Research, which the MHA has commissioned for the project, the newspaper said.
Human rights groups said the survey is unlikely to be a prelude to Singapore softening its position on capital punishment.
“There’s been no indication whatsoever that Singapore’s position on use of the death penalty is softening,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.
“One wonders whether the MHA is counting on a survey of public opinion to back their views and provide justification for their continued defiance of the international trend towards abolishing the death penalty,” he told AFP.
“Opinion polls are a questionable measure of public support for the death penalty,” said Amnesty International’s Singapore researcher Rachel Chhoa-Howard.
“As more and more governments move away from the death penalty, this announcement is completely out of step with the times,” she told AFP.
“Authorities must resume its moratorium on executions, as a first step to abolishing this cruel punishment once and for all.”
Previously, the death penalty in Singapore was mandatory for crimes like drug trafficking and murder.
Following a review, legislation was passed in 2012 removing the mandatory provision for drug trafficking and murder under certain circumstances. —AFP