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Singapore 'top executioner'

Singapore's drug laws are among the world's harshest.
Singapore's drug laws are among the world's harshest.

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Singapore leads the world in executions, putting to death more people than Saudi Arabia, China and Sierra Leone on a per capita basis, rights group Amnesty International has said.

Executions were "shockingly high" and "shrouded in secrecy" in Singapore, Amnesty said, calling on the government to abolish the death penalty by issuing a moratorium on all executions and commuting all death sentences to prison terms.

About 400 people have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving the wealthy city-state of four million people possibly the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population, Amnesty said.

Singapore's drug laws are among the world's harshest. Anyone aged 18 or over convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin faces mandatory execution by hanging.

But drug addiction was still a problem, Amnesty said, adding that there was "no convincing evidence" high execution rates had curbed drug use in Singapore.

It cited Singapore Central Narcotics Bureau statistics showing 3,393 people arrested for drug offences in 2002 and the number of new drug abusers up 16 percent from 2001. Use of methamphetamines, or "ice," also showed a significant increase.

"We are also calling on the authorities to end the secrecy about the use of the death penalty and encourage public debate," the human rights group said in an 18-page report titled "Singapore: The Death Penalty -- A hidden toll of Executions."

Between 1994 and 1999, an average of 13.57 executions were carried out per one million of the population, three times higher than the next country on the list, Saudi Arabia, it said.

The Prisons Department said 400 executions since 1991 was a "fair estimation."

Bid to loosen city

The government ended a 13-year ban on chewing gum, but only for medical use.
The government ended a 13-year ban on chewing gum, but only for medical use.

The public generally supports Singapore's tough laws -- including the death penalty, bans on pornography and curbs on political dissent -- as part of a social contract that in return has delivered years of economic prosperity.

But calls are growing for greater freedoms.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, likely to take power this year, said this month he would continue to loosen Singapore's stiffer social controls though he said he was constrained by the conservative majority in the island's polyglot community of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians.

So far, the steps to loosen up have been small. Last year, the government ended a 13-year ban on chewing gum but only for medical use. Bungee-jumping and bar-top dancing were recently allowed and laws criminalizing oral sex are under review.

Singapore does not normally publish statistics about death sentences or give the number of prisoners sentenced to die, but Amnesty painted a grim picture of death row, based on accounts from relatives of those who spent time there.

"Cells are sparse, furnished only with a toilet and a mat but no bedding. Inmates are allowed the use of a bucket for washing. It is believed they are not allowed to go outside for fresh air or exercise," it said.

Amnesty added that Singapore was going against a global trend towards abolishing the death penalty, noting that three countries a year in the past decade have ended their execution laws, including Angola, Mauritius, Canada and Cyprus.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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