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Singapore man sentenced to death on Zoom call due to coronavirus pandemic

A view of the Supreme Court building against the backdrop of the skyline of Singapore's central business district May 27, 2016. File/REUTERS/Edgar Su

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A judge in Singapore has sentenced a man to death via a Zoom video-call for his role in a drug deal, one of just two known cases where a capital punishment verdict has been delivered remotely.

Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, was told on Friday he would be hanged for masterminding a 2011 heroin transaction, court documents showed, as the country was under lockdown to try and curb its coronavirus outbreak.

“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 minimize virus spread.

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It was the first criminal case where a death sentence was pronounced by remote hearing in Singapore, the spokesperson added.

Rights groups have criticized the use of video-calls for capital punishment verdicts, including a case in Nigeria earlier this month which criminal justice watchdog Fair Trials said was the first death sentence to be delivered remotely.

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Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, said he did not object to Friday’s judgment being delivered on Zoom.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus around the world: May 19, 2020'
Coronavirus around the world: May 19, 2020

He said the judge could be heard clearly and as it was the verdict no other legal arguments were presented. However, he said, his client is considering an appeal against the verdict.

California-based tech firm Zoom did not respond to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore. The Attorney General’s Chambers, the public prosecutor in the case, did not immediately have comment.

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Many court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned during a lockdown period that started in early April and is due to run until June 1, while cases deemed essential have been held remotely.

Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and has hanged hundreds of people – including dozens of foreigners – for narcotics offences over past decades, rights groups say.

“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 Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson.

Amnesty International’s death penalty advisor Chiara Sangiorgio said: “Whether via Zoom or in person, a death sentence is always cruel and inhumane.

Click to play video: '2 Toronto-area teens charged with drug trafficking in Peterborough'
2 Toronto-area teens charged with drug trafficking in Peterborough

“This case is another reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking.”

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