ucanews.com reporter, SingaporeUpdated: March 21, 2019 08:36 AM GMT
A file image of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during an interview on Nov. 1, 2018. Mahathir has asked Singapore to show mercy to a convicted murderer due to be executed on March 22. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP)
Barring a last-minute pardon or stay of execution by Singapore authorities, Michael Garing will be put to death in the early hours of March 22.
The 30-year-old Malaysian is one of four men who went on an armed robbery spree in the island republic in 2010 that ended in the murder of 41-year-old Shanmuganathan Dillidurai.
Michael was given the death sentence for the crime. His family received notification last week to make funeral arrangements for him.
The short notice has triggered 11th-hour efforts by human rights activists and Malaysian politicians including Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to make representations to save his life.
The planned execution of its citizen in the neighboring country comes as Malaysia moves towards abolishing the death penalty.
Singapore, in its bid to make the city state crime-free and safe, has kept its ruthless approach to murder and drug smuggling and routinely executes offenders.
The case has been closely followed in Singapore, which is known for having one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world.
The sharply diverging approaches to crime and punishment between the close neighbors could lead to an awkward stand-off.
Speaking to the press after a parliamentary sitting on March 20, Mahathir said he hopes Singapore extends clemency to the condemned man and joins Malaysia in abolishing the death penalty, which is a contravention of international law.
“We are trying to save his life. As we know in Malaysia now, people think that the death penalty is excessive," state news agency Bernama reported him as saying. "We hope that other countries will also look at it that way.”
Malaysia’s Law Minister Liew Vui Keong said a letter would be sent to Singapore President Halimah Yacob as she has the power to grant pardons or commute the sentence of any convicted person.
"I just came to know about this and will work on it,” he told reporters on March 19, adding that the government would "write to the president and see what she has to say”.
Short notice for family
Prominent Malaysian human rights lawyer N. Surendran was scathing of the rush to execute Michael after the condemned man's family from a small town in the interior of Sarawak were given eight days' notice by letter to make funeral arrangements.
"The extremely short notice is disturbing and cause for concern. It gives the family scant time to spend with Michael in his final days and to make preparations,” he said in a statement.
"Michael was only 21 years old when he committed the crime. We accept that it was a serious crime and that he must face punishment. But like any young person who has committed a crime, Michael must be given an opportunity for rehabilitation. By executing him, the state is answering his wrongdoing with an even greater wrong.
"Singapore gains nothing by carrying out this execution, except to strengthen the perception of indifference and callousness to human life. The death penalty has never been proven to be a deterrent to serious crime. Killing Michael only entrenches the culture of violence and will not make Singaporeans any safer in their daily lives.
"We strongly urge the president of Singapore to exercise clemency and commute Michael's sentence to life imprisonment. It is not too late to do so. We further urge the government of Singapore to impose a moratorium on all executions and work towards abolition of the death penalty."
Amnesty International has also urged Singapore to halt the execution. Researcher Rachel Chhoa-Howard said: "No matter how heinous the crime, the death penalty is a degrading and inhuman punishment. We denounce its use in all circumstances.”
When their trials were held, prosecutors presented Michael and his accomplices Tony Imba, Hairee Landak and Donny Meluda as part of a gang of four Sarawak natives who carried out four violent robberies over a few hours in May 2010.
Their first two victims were construction worker Sandeep Singh, 24, and national serviceman Ang Jun Heng, 19. They were both beaten and slashed with a machete.
A third victim, Indian national Egan Karuppaiah, then 43, had both arms almost hacked to the bone.
Their final victim was Shanmuganathan, who was knocked off his bicycle by Tony and slashed repeatedly. He died after sustaining a fractured skull and a severed jugular vein among other injuries.
Tony is serving life in prison, while Hairee Landak and Donny Meluda each received 33 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane.
Law minister Liew said the Malaysian government's stand was not new, noting that it had made similar representation to the Singapore government last year to spare the life a man convicted of drug smuggling.
Prabu Pathmanathan, 31, was executed at Changi prison in October 2018. He was convicted of smuggling 228 grams of heroin into Singapore in 2014.
Malaysia previously mandated capital punishment for crimes ranging from murder and kidnapping to drug offenses and treason. Drug offenses once accounted for the largest number of executions in the country.