Swinging In Singapore


What lengths will a nation go to in order to protect a citizen's "best

Swinging In Singapore

By Matthew Elrod


Drug-related offences are punishable by death in twenty-four

“We have to pursue this subject of fun very seriously if we want to stay
competitive in the twenty-first century.”

– Singapore
Minister of State

On June 4 the Associated Press reported that Ronald Wilson McCulloch, a 43 year old Canadian, was among 25 people arrested on February 9, 1996, by Singaporean and Malaysian police. Singaporean police said they found eight kilograms of marijuana in a house where McCulloch was staying. McCulloch faced two marijuana trafficking charges, both of which carry a mandatory death sentence, but he apparently plea-bargained to a lesser offence, and has ultimately received nine years in prison.

I must admit that prior to hearing this tragic news I was blissfully ignorant of Singaporean drug policy. Of course I’d heard of Michael Fay, the 18 year old American sentenced to public caning for vandalizing automobiles, but I had no idea just how draconian Singaporean and Asian drug laws are. Though I found the news of Ronald McCulloch’s plight shocking and offensive, I’ve since learned that he is just one of thousands on death row for drug offences in Asia.

Death Around the World

Cannabis grows wild and is extensively cultivated in many countries in south-east Asia. In Sri Lanka, 300 tonnes of cannabis plants were destroyed in 1994. According to the government of Thailand, about 900 tonnes of cannabis are produced in the country each year. In Indonesia, 50 tonnes of cannabis were seized and 37 hectares of cannabis were destroyed in July 1994. The Philippines has become the world’s second biggest source of marijuana after Mexico, producing about $1.4 billion worth each year.

Drug-related offences are punishable by death in twenty-four countries. Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalem, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States. Execution is carried out by shooting, hanging, stoning, beheading and in the United States by intravenous injection, and gassing.

In 1994, China executed 1,791 people and sentenced 2,496 more to death. In the Philippines, 22 people were sentenced to death that year. In Singapore, at least 10 people were sentenced to death, eight of them for drug trafficking, and another 32 were known to have been executed. At least 121 people have been executed in Singapore since 1994, mostly for drug-related offences. These disturbing figures are based on reports voluntarily submitted to Amnesty International and are presumed to be as accurate as high school “reported drug use” surveys. The real numbers are almost certainly much higher.

The first and only westerner to be executed for violating Singapore’s strict drug laws was Dutch businessman Johannes Van Damme. He was hanged in September, 1994, for possession of 4.2 kilos of heroin, despite a plea for mercy from Queen Beatrix of Holland.

If Holland is a working model of harm reduction, then Singapore is a working
model of an all out war on drugs.

Democracy in Singapore

Like Canada, Singapore is a parliamentary democracy based on the British model. The political system has been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since Singapore gained independence from Britain in 1959. The PAP so dominated the political scene that members of the opposition party angrily stalked out of Parliament in 1966. A new leftist party formed in 1971 and was successful in electing one member in 1981 and two in 1984.

In 1986, the debates in parliament began to be televised. This gave wide publicity to the speeches of one of the two opposition party members, who was subsequently expelled for having allegedly defamed the impartiality of Singapore’s judiciary. In 1987, 22 opposition members were arrested and charged with organizing a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the state.

Electoral districts were gerrymandered prior to the elections of September 1988, which gave the ruling PAP 80 of the 81 seats. One political opponent of the PAP was arrested in 1988 on charges of contacts with a US diplomat, and in August 1993 two opposition politicians were declared unqualified to run as candidates on the basis of personal character and financial experience.

Censorship in Singapore

The Internal Security Act permits the Government to prohibit publications that “incite violence, that counsel disobedience to the law, that might arouse tensions among the various classes (races, religions, and language groups) or that might threaten national interests, national security, or public order.”

Assemblies of more than five persons in public, including political meetings and rallies, must have police permission. Individuals wishing to speak at a public function, excluding government functions, must obtain a license from the bureaucratic Public Entertainment Licensing Unit.

Censorship in Singapore is undertaken by the Censorship Section of the Ministry of Information and the Arts. Media reports have been blamed for racial riots and the shedding of blood. The 1950 Maria Hertogh riots, the 1964 riots during Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and the 1969 riot spillover from Malaysia have been blamed on uninhibited reporting and are often cited as examples of how the press can incite racial and ethnic violence.

All general circulation newspapers, with the exception of a small circulation Tamil language newspaper, are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH), a private corporation which has close ties to the PAP. SPH also owns 20 percent of Singapore Cablevision. The Internet is treated as a broadcast service and is regulated under the recently-passed Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act.

and Thought Police

Beyond the repression and propaganda, the parallels between modern day Singapore and Nazi Germany are inescapable. In the late eighties, Prime Minister Lee urged young Chinese professional women to marry men of the same type. This was a form of eugenics calculated to improve inherited qualities.

In June 1996 an SPH owned newspaper reported that residents in low-income housing estates may have TV cameras installed in their homes in tandem with their cable TV service. The Government claims this TV camera scheme will enable residents to tune in on neighborhood activities, improving security in their neighborhoods. The cameras would also be installed in carparks, corridors, elevators and public parks. Similar Orwellian tactics have been used in China. In 1994 a Chinese dissident was arrested for breaking the conditions of his parole by refusing to report his thoughts once a week to police.

Persons detained under the Misuse of Drugs Act are not entitled to a public
trial, which is accorded in all other cases.

Singapore and the UN

Persons detained under the Internal Security Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, as well as suspected drug users detained under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), are not entitled to a public trial, which is accorded in all other cases. Trial is by judge rather than jury. The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice. Consequently, judicial officials, especially in the Supreme Court, have close ties to the PAP.

Under the MDA, Singapore imposes the death penalty on anyone convicted of trafficking in more than 15g of heroin, 30g of morphine, 1.2 kilograms of opium, 500g of cannabis, 200g of hash or 30g of cocaine. The “presumption” clause of the MDA states that anyone caught in possession of more than certain amount of a drug is presumed to be dealing and the onus is on them to prove personal use. A person is presumed to be trafficking if in possession of more than 2g of heroin, 3g of morphine, 100g of opium, 15g of cannabis, 10g of hash or 3g of cocaine.

Article 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 4 states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet the 1995 Report of the International Narcotics Control Board contains no condemnation of Singaporean drug policy. On the contrary, the only concern of the INCB is “the absence in Singapore of control measures for international trade in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in free ports and zone.s.

The UN International Narcotics Control Board invites other countries to
follow the example of Singapore

As the “Gateway to the Orient” Singapore is a significant transit country for narcotics shipments, and a major center for money laundering. The report continues, “The Board appreciates the steps taken by the Government of Singapore to implement the provisions of the 1988 Convention [Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances]. Singapore has introduced measures against money-laundering that have already led to the seizure and confiscation of assets derived from illicit drug trafficking… The Board invites other countries to follow the example of Singapore.”

A Working Model
of the War on Drugs

If Holland is a working model of harm reduction, then Singapore is a working model of an all out war on drugs. By imposing the most stringent drug penalties in south-east Asia, the PAP have unwittingly increased the traffic in more deadly and easily concealable drugs.

The number of junkies in Singapore is increasing. Despite the death penalty, Malaysian authorities have also been unable to reduce drug trafficking. Opiates remain available at stable prices in the region, and the hill-tribes in the mountainous areas of Southeast Asia have been shifting from opium to heroin.

Manufacture and use of methamphetamine and MDMA is on the rise. Singaporean law imposes a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine for possession of Ecstasy, while traffickers face up to 20 years’ in jail and caning. Despite this, syndicates in the Netherlands are still delivering the pills via Singapore to countries in the region. Ironically, this is because the syndicates know that packages which pass through Singapore are less likely to be checked at their final destinations.

Singapore’s war on illicit drugs has also lead to an increase in licit drug abuse. In the past five years 82 patients have been treated for dependence on sleeping pills. The favorite pills used are benzodiazepines such as valium. Phensedyl, a cough medicine containing codeine and, in some cases, ephedrine, is widely used in south-east Asia as a party drink. Seizures of cough syrup are frequently reported in Myanmar and the Philippines. Of the 258 drug-related arrests in 1992 in Brunei, the vast majority were for the possession of excessive quantities of cough syrup. Singapore is used to divert large quantities of cough mixtures from licit trade into illicit channels.

Economic Prosperity

Singapore is heavily dependent on foreign investment and trade which it is doing its best to promote. In recent years the Singaporean strategy has been to make the country so valuable to the region that no one would wish its booming economy destroyed. This strategy has succeeded, as Singapore is one of the world’s busiest ports and is at the center of economic activity in south-east Asia.

The government’s overriding commitment is to economic prosperity. To this end, the government is willing to do whatever is necessary to provide a safe, stable political environment. As a result of the Government’s puritanical attitude, Singapore is one of the safest and cleanest places in the world. However, economic prosperity has not been sufficient to keep the country’s best and brightest at home. Significant numbers of highly educated young citizens have left the country in search of greater political freedom.

Asians have a knack for taking western ideas and improving on them. Electronics and cars are classic examples. We sell them raw logs and they sell them back as bamboo parasols for our cocktails. Singapore has already begun exporting its style of social control to other Asian nations. It may be just a matter of time before they begin exporting their more efficient war on drugs to the west.

For More Information…


The Singapore Government

Singapore Narcotics Control

United Nations Drug Control Programme

Groups and Organisations working against Capital Punishment

Amnesty International Canada

email [email protected]
or [email protected].

214 Montreal Road, Suite 401, Vanier, Ontario, K1L 8L8;

phone (613) 744-7667, or fax (613) 746, 2411.

Amnesty International – Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty

322 Eighth Ave.,

New York, NY, USA?10001; phone (212) 807-8400


P.O. Box 1599

9701 BN Groningen

The Netherlands

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

918 “F” St NW, 6th Floor,

Washington, DC, USA?20004; phone (202) 347-2411

You can also email author Matthew Elrod at href=”mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected].

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