Capital punishment remains a legal sentence under Singapore laws.
The exact number of inmates currently awaiting execution is unknown. Few inmates stay in death row for long periods of time, since executions are generally carried out soon after appeal procedures are rejected.
Death row inmates await execution in Changi Prison Complex. Living conditions are extremely harsh:inmates spend 23 hours a day inside their cells, sleep on the floor and are not allowed to have blankets.
Executions take place on Fridays at 6 am and are carried out by hanging. Families are notified on Mondays and are not allowed to hug their loved ones before they are executed1.
At least 24 persons were sentenced to death between 2010 and 20152.
Four executions took place in 2016. Among the victims were three foreign nationals: Chijioke Stephen Obioha (Nigerian), Devendran Supramaniam (Malaysian)3, and Kho Jabing (Malaysian)4.
Drug related offences account for some 70% of death sentence cases. Singapore imposes mandatory capital punishment for a number of offences from intentional murder and possession of firearms to drug trafficking.
The Misuse of Drugs Act states that any person detained with over 500 grams of cannabis, 30 grams of cocaine, 15 grams of heroin or 250 grams of methamphetamine is subject to mandatory capital punishment.
However, the mandatory death sentence regime was amended in 2013 by the Parliament of Singapore and now allows judges to impose life imprisonment with caning in some circumstances:
if the offender is not a part of the trafficking network, simply a courier of the merchandise
if the offender co-operates with authorities
if the offender is mentally disabled
in homicide cases, capital punishment can be applied only if it is proven that the offender had an intention to kill.
Life imprisonment is included in Singapore’s criminal code.
Parole may be requested after a 20-year period and depends on the President’s decision.
Minors may be sentenced to life imprisonment at the President’s discretion.
Drug trafficking and gun crimes are some of the offences which can be punished with life imprisonment. Life imprisonment is mandatory for offences such as kidnapping for ransom.
Deaths in detention
Number of deaths
Number of deaths attributed to suicide
Ill-treatment and violence
Judicial caning is a legal punishment in Singapore. It is included under sections 325–332 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
From January to October 2016, 1,257 persons were sentenced to judicial caning; 987 of these sentences were carried out, including 373 to foreign nationals. Among those:
• in March 2015, two Germans were sentenced to nine months in prison and three strokes of a cane for vandalism.
• in April, a citizen from Cameroon was caned for overstaying his visa.
• in June, a Swiss man was caned for vandalism.
Approximately 30 offences can be punished with judicial caning, including rape, robbery, drug trafficking, vandalism and violations of immigration laws. Women, death row inmates, juveniles under 16 and men over 50 or medically unfit are exempt from caning sanctions.
Caning is conducted with a thick rattan cane. A lighter one is used for juveniles 16 to 18 years old.
The Changi Prison Complex is one of the main sites for caning in Singapore. Inmates who commit aggravated prison offences may be subject to a maximum 12 strokes of a cane, after previous approval by the Commissioner of Prisons and review by the Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee.
Caning sessions take place twice a week. They are described as an incredibly painful punishment, leaving the person in a state of shock and inflicting permanent scars. Antiseptic must be applied before the session to prevent wounds from getting infected.
Ankles and wrists are chained onto a heavy metal frame, with only the backside exposed. According to testimony given by a convict: “I was told by some of the inmates that the screams of the victims after each stroke of the whip makes one lose all appetite for food. The cane breaks skin and draws blood. Doctors are on hand to administer treatment and to assess if the individual can take more punishment. A maximum of 24 strokes is the legal limit.”
Prison officers who administer caning are specially trained, hold high grades in martial arts and are physically fit and robust. They use their entire body weight to add power to every stroke and induce as much pain as possible. Canes can reach a speed of up to 160 km/h. The blow is incredibly painful.
Arbitrary or secret detention
Detention without trial is legal under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Criminal Law Act (CLA). These laws have been in place since 1963, when Singapore was still a state of the Federation of Malaysia.
Chapter II of Part II of the ISA confers discretionary power to detain without trial if the Minister for Home Affairs considers that a person poses a threat to national security. This measure can last for up to two years and the Minister can, with the President’s consent, renew it for an unlimited number of two-year periods.
Fifty-eight persons have been imprisoned under this law since January 2015.
Seventeen persons were detained under the ISA on October 6, 2016; 25 others received restraining orders. According to Human Rights Watch, “[t]here is little publicly available information about those detained or the basis for their detentions, but the family of Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, detained under the ISA in 2016, has publicly contested the alleged grounds for his detention.”