The Singaporean execution of Saridewi Djamani marks the first time in almost two decades that a woman has been put to death in the city-state. The 45-year-old Singaporean national was sentenced to death in 2018 after being convicted of trafficking approximately 30g of heroin.

The Central Narcotics Bureau confirmed the execution, which took place early on Friday at Changi prison.

Saridewi Djamani’s case has been a subject of intense debate and scrutiny, drawing attention from human rights groups worldwide. According to the local rights group Transformative Justice Collective, the last woman executed in Singapore before Saridewi was Yen May Woen. She was a 36-year-old hairdresser, who faced a similar fate in 2004 for drug trafficking.

The execution has ignited discussions about Singapore’s stringent drug policy and capital punishment for drug-related offences.

Saridewi’s legal defence argued that her ability to provide accurate statements to the police was impaired during her arrest due to severe drug withdrawal. However, a high court judge reviewed her case and disputed this claim. The judge determined that Saridewi’s drug withdrawal during the statement-taking period was only “mild to moderate” in severity and did not hinder her capacity to provide accurate statements to the authorities.

The defence argument regarding Saridewi’s inability to give coherent statements due to drug withdrawal was rejected. This led to her conviction for drug trafficking and subsequent death sentence.

The execution of Saridewi Djamani has sparked renewed calls for the reconsideration of Singapore’s drug policy and the use of the death penalty. Advocates for criminal justice reform and human rights are urging the government to explore alternative approaches to drug-related issues that prioritize rehabilitation and social support for those caught in the cycle of drug abuse and trafficking.

The global outcry over Saridewi Djamani’s execution has seen prominent international organisations, including the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Amnesty International, urging the Singaporean government to halt capital punishment.

Despite the pleas, Saridewi became the second person to be executed in the same week. She was the 15th person to face capital punishment since Singapore resumed executions in March 2022.

The Singaporean execution procedure resumed after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Since then, the city-state has executed an average of one execution per month, a trend that deeply concerns human rights campaigners. Before Saridewi’s execution, Mohd Aziz bin Hussain, a 56-year-old Singaporean Malay man, also met the same fate on drug-related charges, further intensifying the debate over the country’s harsh drug policies.

Amnesty International’s death penalty expert, Chiara Sangiorgio pointed out the need for governments, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Control Board to exert more pressure on Singapore to abandon its current drug control policies.

In defence of its stance on the death penalty, the Singaporean government asserts that it serves as an effective deterrent against drug-related crimes, ensuring public safety. They maintain that the practice is widely supported by the populace and that their judicial processes are conducted fairly. The Central Narcotics Bureau reaffirmed that Saridewi received full due process under the law and had legal representation throughout her legal proceedings.

Anti-death penalty campaigners, however, argue that this form of punishment is not uniquely effective as a deterrent.

One major concern highlighted is prisoners’ difficulty accessing legal representation during appeals. With potentially life-altering consequences at stake, the lack of adequate legal representation raises concerns about the justice system’s fairness and transparency.

Added to the growing concern over the Singaporean execution phenomenon, the Transformative Justice Collective has reported yet another prisoner has been given an execution notice, scheduled for Thursday of the following week. The condemned man, a former delivery driver, was convicted in 2019 for trafficking approximately 50g of heroin. Throughout his trial and subsequent appeal, he maintained his innocence, claiming that he believed he was transporting contraband cigarettes on behalf of a friend to whom he owed money.

However, his appeal was dismissed the previous year, and now he faces execution.

In Singapore, execution notices are typically given to prisoners about a week before the scheduled date. During this period, prisoners are allowed daily visits from their loved ones. However, the visits are conducted through a glass window, with no physical contact permitted. To create lasting memories for families, a photoshoot option is offered, and relatives are allowed to bring special clothes for the inmate to wear during these final visits.