10 years ago today I was in high school, buried under the textbooks, notes and homework. I studied hard and questioned little. I was told about how Singapore was a tiny country that needed to stay safe from the scourge of drugs, which was why the death penalty was necessary to scare all the baddies away. I was taught to be proud of this willingness to take harsh measures and make tough choices to do what needed to be done.
When my French teacher asked what I thought about the death penalty, I very flippantly told him, “I don’t know, I don’t think about it.” He was horrified, but I couldn’t understand why. What is there to think about?
Today, on the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, I find myself taking a completely different position.
This year’s World Day focuses on the significant progress made over the past 10 years to end the death penalty. My friends in Singapore will be commemorating the changes that have taken place in our home country, the most significant being the recent proposed amendments to the mandatory death penalty.
Sitting where I am in Cardiff, unable to join the event in Singapore, I think about my personal progress. It hasn’t been that difficult. All it took was awareness and a willingness to question. What are the issues we’re faced with? Does the death penalty really work? Is there no other way? Who are the ones most affected, and does this system of capital punishment really help them?
The more I read about the way the death penalty is used in Singapore, the more problems I found. When I met the families of death row inmates like Yong Vui Kong and Cheong Chun Yinand Roslan bin Bakar, I was able to put faces to an otherwise clinical, detached system and see how wrong it all was.
For me, it really was all about seeing people as people, not as just criminals or statistics in a prison census. No matter how much we disagree with or are disgusted by the choices they made and the actions they took, these people are still people, and there are – should be – limits to what we do to one another. Killing is one of those limits; I know it happens everywhere every day in the world, but we should never allow it to be seen as okay. Which is why I committed myself to being an anti-death penalty activist.
So that’s been my personal journey over the past 10 years in a nutshell. What’s yours? And if you haven’t had one yet, why not start now?