The Supreme Court of Singapore sentenced a man to death via a Zoom call on Friday, the Singapore newspaper the Straits Times reported. The decision was handed down via the video conferencing app as the city-state remains largely in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Human rights organizations have condemned the decision, calling it cruel and inhumane to deliver a death sentence over a video conference.
Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian man, was informed on the video call that he would be condemned to death by hanging for his alleged involvement in a drug deal. According to the court, Genasan introduced two drug dealers to one another and helped arrange an exchange of one ounce of heroin. The alleged transaction occurred in 2011, and Genasan was extradited to Singapore in 2016 to be tried for his involvement. Genasan, who has denied all charges against him, may still appeal the ruling.
Singapore is one of just a handful of countries that is still increasing its use of capital punishment. The country uses it for a wide range of crimes that the government considers "heinous," and it has grown increasingly unwilling to publicly share information about executions over the course of the last decade. Singapore's laws allow the death penalty to be assigned to those found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and illegal use of firearms, but it is most often applied in drug cases. The country's Misuse of Drugs Act effectively automatically condemns to death any person found to be in possession of 15g of heroin or 500g of cannabis. According to Amnesty International, Singapore is one of just four countries in the world that still executes people for drug-related offenses.
While Singapore regularly applies the death penalty, the sentencing of Genasan marks the first time the country has handed down the punishment in a remote hearing, as confirmed to NBC News by a spokesperson for the Singapore Supreme Court. This is the second known incident of Zoom being used to issue the death penalty. Earlier this month, a court in Nigeria sentenced a man to death via Zoom for allegedly killing the 76-year-old mother of his employer.
Zoom has taken on a role as impromptu courtroom during the coronavirus pandemic, as justice systems around the world attempt to adjust to social distancing requirements. The shift has resulted in some lighthearted moments, including a live stream of a US Supreme Court hearing where a toilet flush was heard in the background and an apparent issue of attorneys showing up for hearings while still in bed. However, it has also created complications within the legal system. Court watchers have struggled to keep up with the change, making it hard for an essential force for transparency and accountability to do their job. With the recent death penalty cases taking place on the video conferencing service, new questions arise regarding the moral implications of condemning a person to death remotely, and the actual legality of it.
Mic reached out to Zoom to ask the company's view on capital punishment sentences being handed down on its platform and whether such usage falls within the company's terms of service. Zoom did not respond to request for comment.
Genasan's defense lawyer, Peter Fernando, did not object to the ruling being handed down via Zoom. "This has been the arrangement made by the court ... with essential hearings conducted via Zoom," he told NBC News. "We have no complaints."
Human rights groups have voiced their objections to Singapore's actions. “Whether via Zoom or in person, a death sentence is always cruel and inhumane," Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s death penalty advisor, said in a statement. “This case is another reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking, and as a mandatory punishment." Human Rights Watch has also called the decision "inherently cruel and inhumane," while noting that "the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so."