Singapore - A heroin courier has become the first convicted drug trafficker in Singapore to avoid a death sentence following reforms in the application of capital punishment, officials said on Thursday.
Singaporean Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim, aged 30, was saved from the gallows because he was a mere courier and assisted the police in disrupting the activities of drug traffickers, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said.
Abdul Haleem was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison as well as 24 strokes of the cane, an additional punishment imposed for serious offences.
Until the legal reforms took effect this year, Singapore judges had no choice but to impose death by hanging on people found to be trafficking in drugs above specific limits.
For heroin dealers, anyone found trafficking in more than 15g faced the mandatory death penalty under the old system.
Abdul Haleem and a friend were found in possession of at least 72.5g of the drug when they were arrested in 2010, prosecutors said.
Death penalty a deterrent to crime
The mandatory death penalty had long been denounced by human rights groups which say most traffickers caught and executed are just low-level couriers.
The AGC said in a statement that Abdul Haleem satisfied two requirements for a judge to spare him from execution: he was just a courier and he provided "substantive assistance" to police in the fight against the drugs trade.
But his friend Muhammad Ridzuan Muhammad Ali, aged 28, was sentenced to be hanged because he did not meet the criteria, said the AGC.
Under the legal reforms, judges are given a small degree of discretion to impose a jail term rather than the death penalty if a convict meets certain requirements which must be certified by the AGC.
The sentencing of the pair on Wednesday set off a courtroom drama when Abdul Haleem demanded to be hanged along with his friend, also a Singaporean citizen, the Straits Times newspaper reported.
"If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I'd rather go down with him," Abdul Haleem was quoted as telling Justice Tay Yong Kwang after the sentences were handed down.
The judge replied: "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not."
Changes to capital punishment laws were passed following a year-long review of the mandatory death penalties for murder and drug trafficking, which critics said were too harsh and sweeping.
But Singapore, widely regarded as one of the world's safest societies, rejected calls to abolish the death penalty altogether, saying it must be preserved as a deterrent to crime.