Singapore’s Supreme Court sentenced a man to death via Zoom video chat on Friday, according to a report from the Strait Times. It’s believed to be the second time that a death sentence has been handed down this year over the video service, which has seen a dramatic increase in use since the global coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian national, was sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly introducing two drug dealers to each other in 2011. Genasan was extradited to Singapore in 2016 for being “complicit in trafficking,” as the Strait Times put it, and helped arrange a deal that involved roughly one ounce (28.5 grams) of heroin. Genasan has denied all the charges against him.
Singapore, a city-state of over 5 million people with a zero tolerance policy for drugs, is one of the few wealthy jurisdictions in the world that still continues the practice of capital punishment. Japan and the U.S. also still enact the death penalty, something that has been abolished in most other wealthy countries. Singapore reported four executions in 2019 and 13 executions in 2018, according to Amnesty International.
It’s not clear if sentencing someone to death is against Zoom’s terms of service. Texas is currently experimenting with its first jury trial by Zoom, as Gizmodo reported on Monday. Zoom did not respond to an email sent early Wednesday, but human rights groups are understandably upset about the case in Singapore.
“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,” Robertson told Gizmodo.
“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.”
Singapore’s High Court judge Chan Seng Onn was the one to officially announce the death penalty for Genasan over a Zoom call, according to the Strait Times, a judge who reportedly believed the testimony of the two other men charged in the case, V. Shanmugam Veloo from Malaysia and Mohd Suief Ismail from Singapore. Shanmugam was previously sentenced to life in prison and 15 lashes with a cane, while Suief has been sentenced to death.
“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 the Supreme Court of Singapore told Reuters.
The death penalty is a hotly contested topic in the U.S., where roughly 40 percent of all executions are carried out in Texas, according to Amnesty International. Capital punishment is especially controversial because the country has seen multiple botched executions in recent years, though there are no reports of any death penalty cases being handled via Zoom in the U.S. yet. A death row inmate in Georgia asked to be killed by firing squad in 2017 after several prisoners were inadvertently tortured to death by botched lethal injections. That request was denied.
Singapore’s bizarre case is the first death sentence handed down by video chat in the city-state, but it’s at least the second time a death penalty sentence has been handed down to a prisoner via Zoom. A man in Nigeria was sentenced to death by hanging earlier this month in Lagos for allegedly killing a 76-year-old woman.