Drug Trafficking: Death Penalty is Not the Solution

by Samantha See

In sixteen Asia Pacific countries, the death sentence is meted out to people who are found guilty of drug trafficking and possession. This law is especially strict in South East Asia which includes the infamous Golden Triangle that borders Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The mandatory death penalty is different from the ‘regular’ death penalty because the judges do not have any discretion in terms of sentencing. Once the defendant is found guilty of the crime, the only sentence is death (Deathpenaltynews). In the latest news, an Australian lady, Emma Louise L’Aiguille has been charged in Malaysia after one kilogramme of methamphetamine was found in the car that she was driving (ChannelNews Asia). If convicted, L’Aiguille could face the death penalty. Two other Nigerian men are also suspects in the case. They however, managed to escape the arrest and are currently on the run. L’Aiguille maintains that she is innocent and did not know that there were drugs in the car. In such cases, how can a jury or judge decide to place the death penalty on a woman who insists that she is innocent? Even if she is not, what gives another human being the right to decide the death of another human? I believe that in any case, capital punishment should not be implemented and used as source of deterrent for crimes, in this case drug trafficking specifically. There are other avenues to stop the flow of drug trafficking, but the death penalty should not be one of them.

In 1986, Kevin John Barlow and Brian Geoffrey Chambers were hung in Malaysia for trafficking five ounces of heroin while in 2005; Nguyen Tuong Van was hung at Singapore’s Changi Prison after being caught with fourteen ounces of heroin during a stopover at Singapore Changi Airport between Cambodia and Australia (The Sydney Morning Herald). These are just some examples of capital punishment for drug trafficking being enforced in various South East Asian countries. While the government bodies try and reason their way out, the death penalty law has definitely helped to paint the countries in a bad light.

The Singapore government has recently reviewed its laws on the mandatory death penalty and has decided to relax it in some cases. It will not however be abolishing this ultimate punishment any time soon as they see the need to be tough on drug traffickers. However, countries such as Thailand and Laos in which capital punishment is also enforced has not seen a decrease in drug abuse over the years. Instead, there have been as increase in narcotics prisoners from 102,727 to 116,323 prisoners in Thailand according to their prison website (Thai Prison Life). The death penalty has obviously not helped to decrease or deter people from trafficking drugs in Thailand.

Another reason why the death penalty for drug trafficking should be abolished, is that many innocent people have been released from death row over the years. These are the fortunate ones who have had their convictions overturned and regain their freedom. But there are others who might not be that fortunate although they are innocent, and punished for a crime that they never did commit. L’Aiguille might be one of those innocent people, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just recently, on 30th May 2012, three Filipinos on death row in Malaysia were pardoned. Police found 867.1 grams of cannabis in their bag in 2008 and they were sentenced the death penalty in 2010. After further appeals and investigations, the judge finally decided that they were not directly involved with the trafficking of the drug (handsoffcain.info). In another case, police found 1.413 kilograms methamphetamine on an Iranian family at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Aug 14 2010. On July 31st 2012, the family of three were acquitted after further investigations and witness testimonies. The judge finally decided that they were not directly involved as they came on a group tour and the drug filled bag was given to them by a travel agent (Deathpenaltynews). While pro death penalty supporters might argue that it will cost the country more to keep prisoners in for life, I believe that it is only a small price to pay to keep the life of an innocent person. Furthermore, in instances where the death penalty is placed upon a foreigner, it can at times create political friction between the countries involved. This has happened in some cases, for example Nguyen Tuong Van as mentioned above who was hanged in Singapore. The Singapore government denied the Australian government’s request for clemency and went ahead with the death penalty. It was reported that airport workers in Australia refused to process Singapore Airlines luggage and some minor ties have been broken between the two nations. The Prime Minister of Melbourne even told the Prime Minister of Singapore that “that (he) believe it will have an effect on the relationship on a people to people, population to population basis” (worldpress.org).

The governments have to work towards the root of the problem of drug trafficking. While trying to stem the movement of drugs might seem to work for a while, I believe that the deeper issue has to be tackled. Firstly, people traffic drugs because of the desire to make quick money. This is especially so in third world countries such as Africa where the people do not have much chance of working white collar jobs and are paid measly wages for hard labour. According to a research conducted by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Africa, 43.9 percent of the respondents attributed their involvement in trafficking because of the large sums of money they can get. Hence these people are willing to risk the danger of getting caught in order to provide for their families and survive. First world countries should thus work together in collaboration efforts with countries like Africa and Mexico to provide other alternative sources of work that are legal which can help support the people. This is one effort to try and help stem the flow of drug trafficking.

The death penalty is not a solution to ending the war on drug trafficking and should not be seen as the ultimate deterrent against trafficking. For the government to decide the live of a person, no matter the amount of narcotics that was found on the person. The government cannot provide a new life, so who are they to take away one?

Works Cited

“allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Why People Traffic Drugs, By NDLEA.”allAfrica.com: Home.    N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012. <http://allafrica.com/stories/200809290421.html>

Aquino, Michael. “Harsh Punishments for Drug Use in Southeast Asia | Drug Laws for     Travelers.” Southeast Asia Travel News, Asia Travel Destinations | Guide to        Southeast Asia Travel on About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012. <http://goseasia.about.com/od/travelplanning/a/seasia_drugs.htm&gt;.

“Australian, Nigerian charged with drug trafficking in Malaysia.” Channel News Asia. N.p.,           n.d. Web. 31 July 2012.             <http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1216864/1/.html>

Beyerlein, Tom, and Laura A. Bischoff. “Death Penalty News: Malaysia: Iranian family on          drug charges escapes death sentence.”Death Penalty News. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug.            2012. <http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.sg/2012/08/malaysia-iranian-family-on-  drug-charges.html>.

“MALAYSIA: 3 FILIPINOS ON DEATH ROW PARDONED.” HANDS OFF CAIN against     death penalty in the world. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.             <http://www.handsoffcain.info/archivio_news/201205.php?iddocumento=16306367&      mover=0>.

“Nurse facing death sentence on drugs sobs in court.” The Age – Business, World & Breaking       News | Melbourne, Australia. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.             <http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/nurse-facing-death-sentence-on-          drugs-sobs-in-court-20120731-23dc0.html>.

O’Callaghan, John. ” Singapore to relax, but not remove, death penalty: Deputy PM|         Reuters.” Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News |    Reuters.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.    <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/09/us-singapore-death-            idUSBRE8680HV20120709>.

“Thai Prison Statistics.” Thai Prison Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2012.      <www.thaiprisonlife.com/thai-prison-statistics/>.

“Singaporean Execution Condemned – Worldpress.org.” Worldpress.org – World News From        World Newspapers. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.             <http://worldpress.org/Asia/2188.cfm&gt;.


One Comment to “Drug Trafficking: Death Penalty is Not the Solution”

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