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The Deterrence Perspective of Capital Punishment

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Thesis: Singapore’s uncompromising stance on the death penalty for drug trafficking is justified as it is intended to (1) uphold societal order by (2) deterring individuals from committing crimes that is detrimental to the societal welfare. Additionally, it is an effective tool to (3) reinforce internal security by discouraging major drug syndicates from establishing themselves in Singapore.

Mr. K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minter of Home Affairs and Law (2017), maintains that capital punishment is a practical tool against the prevention of drug trafficking. He presents that, in contrast to her regional neighbours, the supply of drugs within Singapore’s borders are significantly lower. He followed his statement by stating a comparison between the past and present, mentioning that, “If all things were equal between the 1990s and today, the [number of drug traffickers arrested] should… have doubled.” Similar views were also expressed by Mr. Vivian Balakrishnan (2016), Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a speech where he addresses that such an approach has played a key part in safeguarding the country, especially with the worsening regional drug situation.

South-east Asia persists to be a noteworthy market and manufacturer of unlawful drugs. Drug trafficking in the region has attracted many syndicates from all over the globe due to its lucrative nature. According to Jeremy Douglas (2018), a regional representative from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Singapore experiences a higher risk of drug penetration into her borders due to her geographical proximity to the Golden Triangle. This is further supported by the fact that there is a large proportion of drugs being seized in Singapore even though the country is not a narcotics producer, illustrating that they are “in transit” (Linsey & Nicholson, 2016).

Ms Tin Pei Ling (2017), a member of parliament in the MacPherson Single Member Constituency, also added that this problem is worsened with increased accessibility to drugs due to the interwebs. Online bootleg market destinations allow individuals to purchase without leaving a trace, making it problematic to track. With Singapore’s densely populated city-state, the repercussions of narcotics abuse are unimaginable. Loosening stance against drugs pose to be extremely detrimental.

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Shanmugam (2017) also stresses anti-death penalty activists to take a gander at the more comprehensive view of the situation, instead of focusing on the individual that is being sentenced. In this case, the probable surge in drug-related crimes, the large number of individuals whose lives would be destroyed, whose family relationships would be ruined, and the indiscriminate loss of lives that will occur, thus, disrupting social order. As a Letter to an Amnesty International member from the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Singapore (1997) elaborates, “… [drug traffickers] are no better than murderers and serial killers.”

Similar sentiments were echoed in regions beyond Singapore. A 2017 New York Times article that provided insights towards the opioid crisis in the United States mentioned that, the surge in accessibility of heroin resulted in the deaths of more than 33,000 individuals, due to gun-related violence linked to drugs. The consequences of illicit drug consumption were further elaborated as they claim that babies were born with drug dependency and entire neighbourhoods were adversely affected.

Singapore’s reliance on this approach to maintain law and order has not been without heavy criticism. The Amnesty International (2017) raised concerns that, Singapore operates an institutionalized system of unfair trials with automatic presumption of guilt and a mandatory death penalty. They alerted that this increases the probability of executing an innocent individual. This was correspondingly indicated in Section 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Act whereby any individual demonstrated to have, in their possession, more than specified quantities of drugs allowed, will be presumed involved in ‘trafficking’ unless proven otherwise. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. A case often brought up was off Prabagaran Srivijayan, a Malaysian, who was hanged under mere circumstantial evidence. As the toll of executions continue to rise, a question often raised is whether such a strategy is effective at keeping the true perpetrators at bay.

Nonetheless, despite such alarming allegations, the Central Narcotics Bureau continues to assert that Singapore’s iron fist approach is required especially with the rapid changing of attitudes amongst youngsters towards drugs. They recognized that this has been perpetuated by the media, which has formulated the impression that drugs are harmless. Mr. K Shanmugam (2019) posits that, with young and impressionable Singaporeans becoming increasingly swayed to engage in illicit drug usage, in combination with the reality that they are becoming more easily attainable, it will lead to the worsening of crime rates fueled by the need for money to support their practice. Additionally, the likelihood of being exposed to situations that encourage violence also magnifies. Data from the Singapore Prison Service illustrated that 70% of the current 10,809 inmates in Singapore Prison are incarcerated for drug-related offences. Drug-related crimes disrupts the operations of society and the ability for people to function efficiently.


  1. Amnesty International. (2017, October 11). Singapore: Executions continue in flawed attempt to tackle drug crime, despite limited reforms. Retrieved from
  2. Bosman, J. (2017, January 6). Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis. Retrieved from
  3. Chia, L. (2017, April 17). Singapore to make fight against drugs a ‘national priority’: Shanmugam. Retrieved from
  4. Elangovan, N. (2019, June 29). Substantial evidence drug abusers have higher tendency to commit crimes: Shanmugam. Retrieved from
  5. Hermesauto. (2018, May 21). Tackle graft, governance to stem Golden Triangle meth trade: UN Office on Drug and Crime. Retrieved from
  6. Lindsey, T., & Nicholson, P. (2016). Drugs law and legal practice in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. London: Hart Publishing.
  7. LLP, I. R. B. L. (2019, September 30). Misuse of Drugs Act Singapore – Possession, Trafficking & Punishments. Retrieved from
  8. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2016, September 21). MFA Press Release Transcript of Minister Vivian Balakrishnans Intervention at the High-Level Side Eve. Retrieved from
  9. Ministry of Home Affairs. (2019, April 16). Parliamentary Debate on the Motion on Drugs ‘Strengthening Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs’ – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law. Retrieved from—speech-by-mr-k-shanmugam-minister-for-home-affairs-and-minister-for-law.
  10. Refworld. (2004, January 15). Singapore: The Death Penalty – A Hidden Toll of Executions. Singapore: The Death Penalty – A Hidden Toll of Executions. Retrieved from
  11. Singapore Prison Service. (2013, January 30). 2013 Singapore Prison Service Annual Statistics Release. Retrieved from
  12. Wham, J. (2016, October 25). An innocent man may soon be hanged under mere circumstantial evidence. Retrieved from
  13. Yong, J. A. (2016, September 22). Take more balanced view on death penalty, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urges world leaders. Retrieved from

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The Deterrence Perspective of Capital Punishment. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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