A 41-year-old man was just sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly smuggling around two pounds of weed from Malaysia into Singapore.
Omar Yacob Bamadhaj was arrested in July 2018 after border police found three parcels of weed in the trunk of his car during a routine border search. Bamadhaj and his father traveled from Singapore into neighboring Malaysia earlier that day, and the younger man reportedly collected the pot from his friends at a car wash. Bamadhaj's father, who was driving the car at the time, claimed he had no idea that the weed was in the trunk and was released without being charged.
When he was initially questioned by the police, Bamadhaj said that his friends in Malaysia offered him S$1500 (US$1113) to bring 3 newspaper-wrapped parcels across the border into Singapore. According to Channel News Asia, he told cops that he knew that the “green” was cannabis, but accepted the deal because he was “desperate for money.”
At his trial, Bamadhaj said that he actually never knew what was inside these wrapped bundles, and that his Malaysian friends had placed the weed in his car without his knowledge. Prosecutors argued that the defendant deliberately pre-ordered the weed from Malaysia and intentionally smuggled it back across the border. But after taking Bamadhaj's initial police statement into account, the court sided with the prosecution and found him guilty of trafficking over 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cannabis.
This February, a court sentenced Bamadhaj to death by hanging, a standard sentence for anyone caught smuggling that quantity of weed into the country. His attorneys appealed the case to Singapore's Court of Appeal, arguing that there was reasonable doubt that he intentionally brought weed into the country. The defendant also claimed that police coerced him into admitting to drug trafficking, telling him they would “throw both you and your father to be hanged,” Channel News Asia reports.
Again, the court used the man's initial police statement against him. When asked to explain why he changed his story after being arrested, Bamadhaj said that he was actually stoned at the time of the arrest and that his mind “went blank.” The court found this story implausible and noted that Bamadhaj did not mention that police had coerced him until his final appeal. After a brief deliberation, the court chose to uphold the lower court's decision to sentence the man to death.
“By dismissing Omar Yacob Bamadhaj’s appeal, the Singapore authorities have violated international safeguards and sentenced yet another person convicted of drug trafficking to death by hanging,” said Chiara Sangiorgio, death penalty advisor at Amnesty International, to VICE. “Singapore’s heavy reliance on draconian laws and policies have not only failed to tackle the use and availability of drugs, they also give zero effective protection from drug-related harm and instead facilitate a raft of human rights violations.”
Singapore's extreme drug policies are standard practice in Asia and the Middle East. According to The Economist, 32 countries impose death penalties for drug trafficking, although only about half of these countries regularly carry out these sentences. Even so, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines have killed hundreds of people for drug offenses in the past few years, and at least 30 more people were executed for drug-related offenses in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in 2020.
Despite pressure from Western governments and advocacy groups, most Southeast Asian countries still refuse to abandon their barbaric drug policies. But there is still a glimmer of hope. In 2018, Thailand legalized medical marijuana, and officials have continued to loosen restrictions against medical pot and kratom since then. Hopefully, the unmitigated success of Thailand's medical cannabis industry will help nearby countries recognize the futility of sentencing people to death for a plant.