Punithan Genasan, 37, appeared before the Asian city-state's Supreme Court to answer for charges of recruiting two couriers to deliver approximately one ounce, or 28.5 grams, of heroin in 2011. The proceedings were carried out over Zoom, as have almost all Singapore court proceedings in the past few weeks, due to the coronavirus pandemic. In this particular case, Genasan was in jail, while his attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge all appeared from their various locations.
At the hearing, Genasan was sentenced to death by hanging for his crime.
In Singapore, crimes such as drug trafficking, as well as kidnapping, rape, and use of firearms, carry the death penalty. Indeed, NBC News notes that most sentences of capital punishment in the country are drug-related.
Human rights groups are calling the sentence of death over video-conferencing inhumane, on top of what they claim is the inhumanity of the death penalty for drug crimes, and on top of the inhumanity of the death penalty in general.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, decried the use of video conferencing technology to sentence a man to death.
"It's shocking the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to confront his accusers," Robertson said.
Similarly, Chiara Sangiorgio, a death penalty adviser for Amnesty International, noted that Singapore is 1 of only 4 countries that imposes capital punishment for drug offenses. Sangiorgio called the death penalty "abhorrent" during a global pandemic.
"At a time when the global attention is focused on saving and protecting lives in a pandemic, the pursuit of the death penalty is all the more abhorrent," Sangiorgio said.
Genasan's own attorney, Defense lawyer Peter Fernando, however, didn't see any problem with his client's death sentence being delivered via Zoom.
"This has been the arrangement made by the court... with essential hearings conducted via Zoom. We have no complaints," Fernando said, noting that he intends to meet with his client in the future to discuss his appeal.
In the United States, the judicial response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a mixed bag. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, in some jurisdictions, court proceedings have gone on as if nothing has changed, packing defendants into crowded courtrooms to answer for charges of minor things like traffic violations. In other jurisdictions, judges are emptying jails and prisons of people convicted of, or awaiting trial for, non-violent crimes.