Sunday, November 27, 2005

No humanising of the death penalty please, we're S'poreans

The credo for Singapore's art and media.

No sensationalising, no crusading journalism, no partisan reporting, no comments on race and religion, no biased political films. Bottomline - no stirring up of unnecesary emotions. Emotions, if left unfettered, are irrational, undesirable and detrimental to nation building. Singaporeans know better than to get angry over charity scandals, feel compassion for tsunami victims, get teary-eyed over rainy national day parades, cry over Separation from Malaysia or cast a vote based on emotions.

And hence, please do not ask Singaporeans to think about what condemned prisoner number 856, aka Nguyen Tuong Van, is going through on death-row in Changi Prison. We have been conditioned to check our emotions, to keep consciences at bay, lest they snowball and actually cause governments to crack.

We do not even carry Nguyen's case on the home section of our newspapers. It is Australia's problem, not ours.

Even when Nguyen's coffin reaches Melbourne five days from now to a firestorm of outrage, Singaporeans will still go about their lives. Many will wonder why their Australian friends are beginning to get emotional and start boycotting Singapore companies.

It's just one less drug trafficker, we will say. A statistic. A digit. A 856.

Where art schools censor their artists

Over the weekend, The Australian newspaper was threatened with legal action by Lasalle directors if it published a picture of the work and all requests for an interview with the artist were denied. The card carrying Van's execution number was hastily removed.

Where the executioner and the executed are supposed to be faceless.

Job vacancy now open for hangman - $400 per kill

Singapore Prisons Department has sacked its only hangman Darshan Singh after his picture was published by the Australian press. Mr Singh said he was in big trouble and was out of a job.
"It has been very, very difficult for me," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "I am not the hangman anymore."
Mr Singh said he would miss the $400 fee for each execution but was relieved he would not be placing the noose around Nguyen's neck. "In a way I am happy," he said.

No glorifying the dead please

The Singapore police slapped a ban on the use of Shanmugam's face in all publicity and information material pertaining to a May 13th concert against the death penalty.

Is it not the job of journalists, writers, bloggers, podcasters, photographers, filmmakers and artists to humanise their subjects?

Those who fear human emotions most are most likely the ones who are most afraid to confront their own, and hence they legislate laws to suppress others' rights to feel and act.

Some of the more sobering articles not found in Singapore's media.

His first overseas trip ends by execution in Changi gallows

From Herald Sun
Nguyen's walk to death

IT was through this gate that Tuong Van Nguyen's journey to hell began.

And as he sits on death row awaiting execution on Friday, Nguyen has no doubt reflected on the night the "beep" of the metal detector signalled the collapse of his world.
It was just on three years ago when the 22-year-old Melbourne salesman approached Gate C22 at Singapore's Changi Airport with much trepidation.

He was carrying two bags of high-grade heroin -- one strapped to his body and the other stuffed into a backpack -- and was rushing to catch the flight to Melbourne.

He was in transit from Cambodia, where he'd collected almost 400g of the white powder to smuggle into Australia for a Sydney syndicate.

Nguyen would later tell Singaporean police he had become a drug mule to pay off his twin brother's debts.

Airport security officers in Cambodia had failed to detect the two plastic packets of heroin he'd taped to his body.

Once on the Silkair flight MI622, Nguyen started to have breathing problems, so he went to the toilet and removed the packet taped to his stomach, then stuffed it in his hand luggage. He kept the other taped to his lower back.

After arriving in Singapore, Nguyen had to connect with Qantas QF 10 for his flight home.

But he fell asleep in the Business Lounge, and when he awoke realised he had only 10 minutes to make the plane.

In his police statement, Nguyen said his anxiety levels were further raised by fears that his movements were being monitored by the drug syndicate.

"At the metal detector, I placed my backpack and my business bag on to the X-ray machine," he stated.

"Then I walked through the metal detector and as I was crossing it beeped.

"At that point I knew I was going to be caught.

"A policewoman told me to stand to one side so as not to obstruct traffic.

"She then used a metal detector wand to search me by going up and down my body. The wand did not beep.

"She then touched my back and when she reached my lower back, she must have discovered the packet of heroin strapped there."

Nguyen, who has no criminal record, was immediately taken to a room where he was ordered to place his hands against the wall.

"I told him, 'No need, I will get it for you'," he stated. "I lifted up my shirt and pulled out the strapped packet on my lower back and gave it to the officer.

"He asked me what that was and I replied to him, 'It's heroin, sir'.

"I also told him that there was more and went and retrieved the pack of heroin which I had hidden inside my backpack."

At this stage, Nguyen became distressed and began to cry, at the same time hitting his head against the wall. He then sat on the floor, holding his head in his hands.

Shortly before midnight, December 12, he was taken to Singapore's Central Narcotic's Bureau and later charged on serious drug offences, with an automatic penalty of death by hanging.

It had been his first overseas trip.

Just before midnight last night all was quiet at Gate C22. About 5km away, the lights were also out at Changi Prison.

Nguyen's execution date falls on the third anniversary of the day he flew out of Australia.

From The Bulletin
Singapore deadly serious
... From mule to death row

Nearly three years on, Van has, like many others on death row, turned to religion for comfort. He has been baptised and has spent much of his time comforting other condemned prisoners. He has written letters to his closest friends in Australia, reassuring them that "everything will be all right".

Of course, it won't.

His mother is bereft, about to set off on a journey no mother should have to make. Her other boy, who has been a virtual recluse since the arrest, is also making the trip to Singapore.

Kim Nguyen has said little publicly until the past few weeks. Her English is poor and her pain unimaginable. But everyone in Australia understood when she said: "Every time I go to see Van, I tell him mummy loves him very much. He is my heart. If something happens to my son, my heart will be stopped."


The Sunday Mail
By CLARE MASTERS in Singapore

AS THE clock hits 6pm on Thursday, Tuong Van Nguyen will press his hands against the prison's glass window and say his last goodbyes to his mother and brother.

This is the last hour that Nguyen is allowed contact with the outside world.

His lawyers and family will then be ushered out of Singapore's Changi prison, a newly built hi-tech fortress where Nguyen will spend his last days.

It is an institution stiff with regulation and ritual but tradition dictates that the rules relax in the last week of a condemned prisoner's life.

The 25-year-old, who once had another life as a sales man, will be allocated a small
amount of money by the Singapore Government to spend on food and will be able to
order ready-made meals or takeaway, usually shared with the other inmates.

One luxury is a giant cup of coffee in a plastic mug that he will be given in the morning and will sip slowly over the day, holding on to it long after it has gone cold.

On the last day, Nguyen's regimented routine breaks when he is escorted from his tiny cell to a room where he has his photograph professionally taken as a memento for his family.

In a bizarre prison custom reserved for all death-row prisoners, the Vietnamese
refugee will slip out of the orange shorts the con demned are required to wear and the white shirt stamped with his prisoner number C856.

Newly dressed in his favourite clothes, brought to the prison by his mother, Nguyen will face the camera's flash and attempt a smile as he leans against a wall and strikes 13 different poses.

In the grief-stricken days after his broken body is returned to his family, Nguyen's mother will be given the 13 photographs as a gift from the government which killed her son.

As Nguyen treads the floor of his 3m by 2m cell, the prison of ficials will practise his execution with a sandbag of his weight. Nguyen is allowed to read censored newspapers and watch a delayed telecast of Channel Five, Singapore's English-speaking channel.

And, as night becomes Friday morning and the clock's hands reach six o'clock, Nguyen will be taken from his cell one last time to the gallows.

Then he will fall through the trapdoor and become the first Australian citizen to lose his life behind Singapore bars.


An excerpt of a letter written by convicted drug smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van.

In a second, more formal letter sent to the Singapore President pleading for a reprieve and signed Caleb, the name he has taken since being baptised, Nguyen claims he is beginning to learn the meaning of life.

"Recognising and understanding my offence, the ramifications and subsequent repercussions as a result of my callousness has been crucial, essentially the turning point for my remorseful transformation; an opportunity of self-discovery made possible upon my conception of God and Jesus Christ into my life," Nguyen writes.

"Amidst these score of painful revelations an unspoken truth was exposed. I found myself in deep sorrow for the true victims; the families of those whom suffer as a result of losing a loved one to drugs. This truth has put many things in perspective for me."

In another letter, written on Sunday, October 23 - after his clemency plea was rejected and he was told he had only days to live - Nguyen said he was not surprised. He was sad for his mother and twin brother Khoa and all his loved ones. But he had known this was his fate for a long time. "Sailo (a name he uses for himself in the third person) was just awaiting my day of judgement and I am glad and ready to go now. I believe by then God's purpose will have been achieved.

"Fear has yet to set in and (I) pray may God's strength in me be enough to ward off any doubts I may have."

Nguyen said he went through his normal routine in prison after being told of his looming execution and slept from 7pm to 7am.

"So 12 solid hours ... did me a world of good. This (letter) gonna be short because Sailo's got quite a number of comfort letters to write.

"God blessed me with so many beautiful beings who have loved me unconditionally so it's only befitting I write to and console each one."

Chaplain to give last rites

Father Gregoire Van Giang, a Singapore prison chaplain who assists Nguyen and other inmates, will join the former Melbourne schoolboy in prayers and walk with him from his cell to meet the hangman.


the Bulletin
In Cold Blood

Singapore proudly say it has "humanised" the hanging process - weighing the condemned and carefully calibrating bodyweight with a "drop" system so as to deliver a swift, clean kill when the platform gives way.

Ravi says Malaysian drug addict Vigmes Murthi wasn't so lucky. When he was hanged at Changi in September 2003, Ravi says, his head was nearly torn off by the force of the 500kg-plus drop, about seven times his bodyweight. "They got it horribly wrong," Ravi says, "his mother was screaming, screaming ... there was so much blood in the coffin, it was overflowing."

By 1pm, the family - delayed coming in from Malaysia - hadn't yet collected the corpse so Singapore summoned the state cremator to dispose of it. The family got there by 2pm and Ravi was called from chambers to have a most unseemly brawl over Vigmes' bloodied corpse with the contracted cremator, who was banking on a nice little earner. In the end, Ravi and Vigmes' family prevailed, "but with no help from the government".

By this year, Ravi says, the famous Singaporean efficiency corrected itself; too much so. On May 13, Singapore's only hangman, a corpulent 72-year-old locally born Indian called Darshan Singh, roused another Ravi client, Shanmugam Murugesu, convicted in 2003 of trafficking 1kg of cannabis, at 2am on the morning of his execution.

In a procedure that awaits Nguyen, he was served a light breakfast before being led to the gallows chamber where he waited and waited - "and one can only imagine his torment", says Ravi - until dawn to die.

Two days earlier, Ravi says, after asking Shanmugam's mother to send in her boy's best clothes, the state had taken him from his cell and photographed him in 14 different poses, including one seated behind a desk. "He looked as if he was the general manager of a big company," says Ravi.

The photo set was presented to Shanmugam's mother by the state after it had killed him, Ravi says, suggesting she might wish to hang the picture of him in his suit in the family living room "as a memento of the potential of her boy". In Singapore, it seems, death comes with interior design advice.


Nguyen counts down final days

Lex Lasry, Nguyen's counsel, told reporters the former salesman was "calm", composed" and "rational" after seeing him for two-and-a-half hours last week.

Nguyen was "obviously preparing himself for the end of his life, which I must say takes my breath away," Lasry said.

Subhas agrees that those staring death in the face after years on death row can show immense fortitude.

"Most of them have accepted their fate. You'll find that most of them have developed religious (feelings)," he says.

"I've gone to see many of my clients who are going to hang the next day or the day after. They are very philosophical about it.

"Of course you feel that this guy is going to die in two days, but you get used to it I suppose," Subhas said.

It's a long-standing tradition that executions take place at 6am on Fridays.

The gallows are positioned just a short walk from Nguyen's small cell on death row.

He will be handcuffed as he is led to his death.


Mother of Nguyen Tuong Van arriving with twin brother Khoa in Changi Airport

From The Sunday Mail
I'm ready to meet angels: Nguyen

After Nguyen was sentenced to death in March 2004, he told how he desperately missed his brother and mother.

"The pain of missing her is by far sharper than anything physical I have ever felt," he wrote.

"With aching comprehension, I come to terms with the loss I feel without mum."

Nguyen, who is popular among other inmates, told of how he planned to keep the news of his looming execution from his friends inside, to spare them from anguish.

"I was gonna keep it from the guys in here so as to spare them, but I made second page of the newspaper so there went my surprise," he wrote.

God and faith are common themes in his writing.

In a letter to a friend, written before his clemency was rejected, he writes: "The
hidden providence of God – your undying support has gone a long way in keeping my pilot light burning; esp. during my darkest moments."

Preparations for death

Every religious tradition emphasizes that to prepare spiritually for death it is vital that we establish right now a daily spiritual practice, a practice so deeply ingrained that it becomes part of our flesh and bones, our reflexive response to every situation in life, including our experiences of suffering.

Making a connection, healing relationships and letting go. This task refers to our relationships with others, particularly family and friends. The main points here are to learn to communicate honestly, compassionately and unselfishly, and to resolve any unresolved problems we may have with others.

Nguyen's families and friends should be saying their goodbyes in the next two days. All news of attempts to seek a stay of his execution should not reach him. It is best for Nguyen that he mentally steadies himself to depart, in the words of sacked hangman Darshan Singh, "to a world better than this."

It will be difficult - as hanging will not be painless and instantaneous. Nguyen will feel tremendous pain. Let's pray that when the trapdoor opens and the noose tightens, he finds the composure to not struggle, and just let go.

For execution by this method, the inmate may be weighed the day before the execution, and a rehearsal is done using a sandbag of the same weight as the prisoner. This is to determine the length of 'drop' necessary to ensure a quick death. If the rope is too long, the inmate could be decapitated, and if it is too short, the strangulation could take as long as 45 minutes. The rope, which should be 3/4-inch to 1 1/4-inch in diameter, must be boiled and stretched to eliminate spring or coiling. The knot should be lubricated with wax or soap "to ensure a smooth sliding action," according to the 1969 U.S. Army manual. (The Corrections Professional, 1996 and Hillman, 1992)

Immediately before the execution, the prisoner's hands and legs are secured, he or she is blindfolded, and the noose is placed around the neck, with the knot behind the left ear. The execution takes place when a trap-door is opened and the prisoner falls through. The prisoner's weight should cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck. However, instantaneous death rarely occurs. (Weisberg, 1991)

If the inmate has strong neck muscles, is very light, if the 'drop' is too short, or the noose has been wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation is not rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation. If this occurs the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the eyes pop, the body defecates, and violent movements of the limbs occur. (The Corrections Professional, 1996 and Weisberg, 1991)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Govt sponsors multi-million dollar documentary on Singapore's history

No, we do not allow foreigners to "meddle" in our affairs, especially not with their Western liberal bias. Instead, let's entrust them to produce a three-hour documentary of our nation's history - with our money.

"You are not going to tell us how to run our country"
- MM Lee Kuan Yew warning foreign journalists not to meddle in Singapore

"Since we want the story to be told in an independent and impartial manner, and told in a way that would be of interest to viewers outside Singapore, I thought it would be better that it is done by a non-Singaporean company."
- Tommy Koh, chairman of National Heritage Board, on his preference for foreigners to produce a film on Singapore's history, Straits Times, Nov 12 2005

The Singapore Government routinely tells foreigners not to "meddle" in our affairs but when it comes to producing a three-hour film on our history, it prefers to engage foreigners. Apparently, according to Tommy Koh, local producers cannot be entrusted to tell the story of Singapore in an independent and impartial manner. A foreign company can do the job better. You go figure.

Discovery Channel is set to roll out a three hour documentary next month entitled "History of Singapore'. Preview audiences interviewed by the Straits Times indicated that they are confident that the film will present a "fair and balanced" account. ST also reported that political dissidents such as JB Jeyaratnam, former unionist Fong Swee Suan and the late Lim Chin Siong are featured in the film.

However, the paper failed to mention that the documentary is sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, and supported by the National Heritage Board. This means that it is considered a Government-sponsored film and is thereby exempted from being deemed a 'party political film' - of which I am still under police investigation for the making of 'Singapore Rebel.'

Legally, "History of Singapore' can be as biased and partisan as the producers (and financers) would like it to be without violating the law. Clever.

The idea for the documentary was mooted by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2003 and is produced by British-based Lion Television which reportedly had "free rein" in the production.

Saturday November 12, 10:17 PM

Multi-million-dollar documentary
on history of Singapore to air next month

History of Singapore" - as the landmark multi-million-dollar documentary is
called - will air on Discovery Channel next month.

Footages never seen before and interviews with key figures like Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew - all filmed on high-definition - is featured in the three-hour special.

The documentary will be telecast on Channel NewsAsia and other MediaCorp channels

The Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of World War Two in a room in City Hall.

And in 1965, Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also sworn in there at the City Hall chamber.

So it was a fitting venue to launch the new documentary series.

From Singapore's beginnings as a mangrove swamp to the Asian economic metropolis it is today, the history of Singapore over the past two centuries is showcased to viewers in a three-hour special.

Besides rare historical footage such as the first known map of Singapore after Raffles landed, the documentary also has real-life re-enactments.

There will also be interviews with key historical figures recounting turning points in Singapore's past.

So how different is this version of history compared to previous ones?

Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board said:

"This is not a Singapore documentary, it is a documentary about Singapore but made by an international company. We hope the final product will be fair and balanced, and tells our story in an engaging and convincing way."

"It does capture quite well, in three hours, the long and complex history of Singapore. Of course if you do a documentary and you want to make compelling TV, you have to take certain creative decisions but I have to say the story is quite accurate," said Professor Tan Tai Yong, a historian at the National University of Singapore.

Discovery's team also faced challenges when they were filming the series.

Said James Gibbons of Discovery Asia: "How do you take 200 years and condense it? An objective was to tell the story of Singapore - which is one of the four Asian tigers. The story we believe is emblematic of many of the transformations that have taken place in Asia over 100 years. It's a fascinating story for our audience in the region and perhaps beyond."

As a special tribute to mark Singapore's 40th birthday, the three-part series will reach more than 100 million households in 23 countries, telling the history of Singapore to the local and international audience.

The documentary is sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, and supported by the National Heritage Board.

- CNA /ls


While Singapore has laws to fine and imprison their film-makers for making 'political' films, North Korea adopts a more hard-nosed approach in reining in renegade film-makers...

They execute film-makers in this country

"Do you really believe that we are equal to North Korea ? Oh, come on. We are not that daft. We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests and what we have is working. You are not going to tell us how to run our country"
- MM Lee Kuan Yew speaking to foreign journalists on Singapore's low ranking press freedom

"We consider that the United Nations has no right to discuss the Korean question nor has it any right to meddle in the domestic affairs of our country. The Korean question should not be discussed by foreigners in New York of Washington, it should be discussed in Pyongyang or Seoul by the Koreans themselves."
- Kim Il Sung, father of current North Korea President Kim Jong Il

Here's another documentary you should catch. Click here for CNN schedules.

Undercover in the Secret State

In Undercover in the Secret State, Dispatches exposes the true face of North Korea its strict regime has strived to keep hidden. Although rumours abound of forced labour camps and systematic human rights abuses, Asia's last Stalinist state and one of the world's emerging nuclear powers, remains something of an enigma.

In this film, award-winning filmmaker Kim Jung Eun (Shadows and Whispers: The Struggle of North Korean Refugees) lays bare the cruel realities of daily life, presenting powerful undercover footage and interviews with defectors fleeing the regime.

Working as secret cameramen, the dissidents Jung Eun meets film public executions and concentration camps to expose the subjugated existence of a nation gripped by the cult of its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il. The chilling footage smuggled to the outside world, hand by hand, along an underground network, makes difficult viewing.

Prisoners whose only crime was to help people escape the country are submitted to the firing squad under the gaze of men, women and school children. Elsewhere detainees in a political prison camp are incarcerated with three generations of their family for criticising the regime.

In a bid to bring down the one-party dictatorship from within, the fledgling dissident movement produces publicity which criticises the dictatorship - a crime punishable by death.

They also import illicit American and South Korean soap operas which are proving an effective means of promoting unease. The soaps depict a comfortable standard of life in South Korea which contradict the state-controlled media reports and sit in stark contrast to the hand to mouth existence north of the border.

Undercover in the Secret State is a powerful film which presents an uncensored version of North Korea, a country blighted by acute food shortages and a rigid regime which violates human rights. But it also offers hope of a change powered by new technology.

Below is excerpt of article by Felix Soh published in the Straits Times Nov 3, 2005

Shocking images of life in North Korea

Secretly filmed tapes show public executions, poverty and anti-govt graffiti

North Korean dissidents are using mobile phones, digital cameras and video recording devices to leak chilling, never-before-seen images of life inside the reclusive country, including public executions by firing squads.

A network of secret cameramen is employing technology as the latest weapon to expose the truth about harsh living conditions in North Korea and to fuel growing dissent against the repressive Stalinist regime of strongman Kim Jong Il.

If they are caught filming, they face prison or death.

Among the most shocking footage ever to have come out of North Korea are these:

- Instant trials followed by public executions, with children among those witnessing the atrocities. (My note : public executions is an "atrocity"; executions done behind closed doors in Changi Prison is not?)

- Rare defacing of posters of Kim Jong Il with anti-government graffiti such as "Bring down Kim Jong Il, he has killed everyone who stood for democracy".

In one of the executions shown in the documentary, people are ordered to gather in a dusty field.

A public official tells the crowd that those who go against their country will be executed. Minutes later, a man is led out and tied to a pole. He is blindfolded. Three policemen step forward and raise their rifles.

The official shouts: "Forward. Right. Shoot, shoot, shoot."

The shots ring out. The man slumps against the ropes that bind him to the pole.

His crime: trying to make contact with the outside world.

North Korea is a hermit-like state whose people's lives, activities and movements are tightly controlled and restricted.

The Pyongyang regime describes the country as paradise, but regugees and dissidents speak of repression, famine, starvation, prison and torture. Images of the latter are now being smuggled out of the country.

CNN's Undercover In The Secret State will be telecast in Singapore,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan at 7pm on Thursday, with replays on subesequent days.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The executioner and the minister - Just doing what they are told

Are our standards of punitive measures too draconian ?

Excerpt from a letter published in the Straits Times forum page

Nov 3, 2005

Laws shouldn't be too far off global standards

A MAN punched a lawyer in front of a judge and was sentenced to six years in jail. When he appealed to the High Court, another four years were added to his sentence, a decision which was later reversed.

A shoplifter was jailed for 11 years.

Drug traffickers caught with as little as 15g of heroin are sentenced to death. According to Amnesty International, since 1991, 400 people have been hanged, mostly for drug trafficking.

Singapore is known for its strong emphasis on law and order. However, one cannot help but feel that something is amiss in the way court sentences are sometimes meted out.


"Human beings, regrettably though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness. If these people said to us, cancel whipping and you will be a better society, we will underwrite this existence in human liberty, then we would abolish effective punishments and treat criminals the way Americans do."

- Lee Kuan Yew on the caning of American teenager Michael Fay, Apr 1994


According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, Singapore's prison population per capita is three times the world's average, and fourth highest in Asia.

It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it.

Meet Darshan Singh.

The 73 year old grandfather is Singapore's chief executioner. He has put to death more than 850 men and women since the mid-50s. He collects S$400 for every life he snuffed out. The number of executions has propelled Singapore into the top of Amnesty's list of countries with the most per capita executions.

Until last week, no one has heard of Darshan Singh. He was finally unmasked when a journalist from The Australian covered the story of an Aussie now on death row in Changi Prison.

Mr Singh is unable to talk about his job as he is prohibited to do so under the Official Secrets Act. But when his colleague asked him why he had stayed so long in such a gruesome job, he replied: "It's all I know. It has become my bread and butter."

Mr Singh is now retired but is still called upon by the Government to carry out executions. Apparently, the State has not been able to find a replacement hangman.

Meet Professor Ho Peng Kee.

He is Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs. Ministers' salaries are hardly made public, but it is estimated that he takes home some S$3000 to S$4000 a day.

When asked what does a second-line minister like him do, he replied, "I'm Mr Wong Kan Seng's deputy. I do whatever he asks me do."

Prof Ho does not like to argue the death penalty in Parliament and put people people down in the process. He is also a Christian and considers gay sex "not natural."

Interview with Professor Ho Peng Kee published in the Straits Times on Oct 28, 2005.

On sex, values and white elephants

ST : Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) review of the Penal Code will be out at the end of the year. One aspect mentioned previously is the law on oral sex. Is it likely to be decriminalised?

Prof Ho : That one we're looking at.

Some of these laws were drafted in the past, so we have to contextualise some of these laws because society changes.

It's a big exercise. The various ministries are still working on some of the details.

What's your personal take?

My personal take is that between men and women, if you are an adult and there's no force, then what you do in the privacy of your bedroom that has no impact on the public, then you do what you want.

What about gay sex?

We're still a conservative society.

It's a slippery slope. Once you move, where do you go to? So you'll talk about not just gay sex but also gay marriages, then gay adoptions...

But using the same argument, that you can do what you want in the privacy of your bedroom?

That's different because I think men and women having sex is natural. And it is also in a sense consistent with the whole idea of marriage.

Of course even if they do it outside of marriage, it is still man and woman, which is still part of this relationship.

More industrialised nations are moving away from the death penalty. Is it time for us to review this too?

The pressure can come from outside. But the question really for us in Singapore to decide what works for us.

To me, the large majority of Singaporeans accept our penal system, that, yes, it is tough but it is also fair.

But we're not a society that advocates just hard punishment. We've also softened it when appropriate and home detention is an example.

We introduced it in 2000 and 6,000 people have gone through it. This is something which is actually quite revolutionary. Not many countries have done it this way but we are prepared to do it.

Do you feel Singapore has been made a laughing stock over the investigation into the white elephant protest over the Buangkok station? Many Singaporeans feel it was a creative protest and it's somewhat over the top to have the police investigate.

The police have investigated where a complaint is lodged ... it violates the Public Entertainment Act.

What if the exhibit was something else, maybe something obscene?

I don't think people would say we are a laughing stock. People would say that we are an orderly society that believes in the rule of law and also the professionalism of the police in being consistent.

Often the Government justifies its actions saying it's simply following the law. Do you think that old laws, such as this and that five people constitute an illegal assembly, trap the Government in old behaviour and old ways of reacting - even when society itself has changed?

We examine the relevance of our laws all the time.

Regarding the illegal assembly law, I think nobody can argue that the mischief is being addressed, if there are crowds of people gathering causing disorder, causing fear, causing disruption to traffic...

Laws are in place for good reasons. But whether the parameters can be changed over time, I'll say yes, because no law is cast in stone.

If you ask why five and not 10, well, some number has to be drawn.

As a Christian, do your religious beliefs affect you in decision making?

You have to make decisions according to policies, what is right for Singapore, and Singapore is secular.

But as a mature religious person, your values are internalised. That's how you act, speak, present yourself. But you don't think, oh, as a Christian, what should this policy be?

At temples for instance, I attend festivals and so on, just that I don't hold joss-sticks.

You said gay sex is "not natural". Is that something that comes out of your religious beliefs?

Yes, could be. Well, I won't attribute it directly. I look at it more as a family bedrock thing, that a family is based on a man and a woman. I think all the main religions in Singapore believe it's how we are made.

What is exactly that second-line ministers like you do?

Depends a lot on the minister and also on who else is there.

So in MHA, I'm Mr Wong Kan Seng's deputy. I do whatever he asks me do because initially, he also has to find a level of confidence in me. So if he feels comfortable enough, then he gives me more work and I do more. Over time, I can also run a bit on my own.

You mentioned earlier that you're not a natural politician. What do you mean by that?

I think people assume Singaporean politicians to be quite tough, hard-headed and I'm not naturally that kind of person. I can be tough, I can be hard but I think naturally I'm of the softer type.

I can make tough decisions but I'll probably agonise a bit.

Which was your most agonising decision?

In MHA, you've to defend the death penalty, you have to argue in Parliament and put people down, and I don't enjoy doing it.

You made the election promise in 2001 that Nee Soon East will be kept a single-seat ward. The final decision lies with the Prime Minister, but do you think it's a promise you can keep?

I hope so. This one, cannot leak secrets, otherwise the opposition will also know. (laughs) Put yourself in my position. I will lose credibility if it's not a single seat.