In Malaysia, a pop star sings the words of a death row prisoner
17 April 2021
Pannir writes, Santesh sings; both are Malaysian and have almost the same age (33 and 32). But one is on death row in Changi Prison (Singapore), while the other is an M-pop (Malaysian pop) star.
In his third album, "Arah Tuju", launched in Malaysia on 17 April, the artist sings the lyrics composed by his imprisoned compatriot. The project was initiated by the "Sebaran Kasih/Spread Love Malaysia" Association, founded by Pannir's sister, Angelia Pranthaman, and proudly supported by ECPM and its Malaysian partner, ADPAN.
Music as an instrument of freedom
The #SavePannir campaign is now taking on a new dimension: the texts of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, a Malaysian national sentenced to death in Singapore on 27 June 2017 for drug trafficking, can now be heard by wider public, reflecting the conditions of many death row prisoners around the world. Now awaiting his appeal submitted in February 2020, the young man had escaped his execution the day before its scheduled date: 24 May 2019.
Malaysia and Singapore are among the 26 retentionist states out of the 48 in Asia. Nevertheless, Singapore, separated from Malaysia since 1965, takes a much tougher stance on the death penalty than its neighbour (which has been progressing towards abolition since 2006), despite the progressive image it strives to project. A year ago, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a prisoner was sentenced to death in an online hearing, causing major reactions from international human rights activists.
In particular, the law on drug control is very repressive. Singapore remains one of only four countries in the world to have carried out executions for drug-related offences in recent years. Since 2012, a bill has been passed to repeal the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking (international law and international standards prohibit the imposition of mandatory death sentences, as it deprives judges of the possibility to take into account possible mitigating circumstances).
This bill, therefore, allows the judge to impose life imprisonment instead of the death penalty for drug trafficking only in certain circumstances, notably in case of cooperation with the authorities. But these circumstances remain very restrictive, and they are at the discretion of judges.
← View the death penalty situation in Asia in 2020
ECPM on the spot
The album is produced with the financial support of ECPM and ADPAN through their EU third-party funding programme.
A year ago, ECPM published "Isolation and Desolation", a fact-finding mission reporting on the 1,280 men and women on Malaysian death row in the aftermath of trials that do not always respect the fundamental principles of international law.
Regarding Malaysian citizens sentenced to death abroad, the Malaysian government was for the first time interested in this topic since the end of October 2018, after it had formally committed to abolishing the death penalty for all crimes on its territory. In this context, the government had intervened with the Singaporean authorities to prevent one of its citizens' execution.