By Gideon Lasco, Suchitra Rajagopalan / Inquirer

In May 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a man in Singapore was sentenced to death for a drug offense via a remote hearing on Zoom. This incident personifies the approach to drugs in Asia. Countries in Asia hold the unfortunate distinction of being among the most prolific users of the death penalty for drugs, and for having some of the most punitive drug laws in the world.

Despite the proven ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to drug use or sale, its use for drug offenses has continued, with Bangladesh expanding the death penalty to cover the manufacture and trafficking of yaba (methamphetamine). Sri Lanka’s former President Maithripala Sirisena sought to reinstate the death penalty for drug traffickers last year, and Indonesia continues to hand out death sentences for drug-related offenses.

While executions sometimes receive media attention, much less is said of the plight of people on death row for drug offenses. At least 3,000 people convicted of drug offenses are languishing on death row. Government data is insufficient and inaccessible so the actual figure is likely to be much higher. Many of these people have been on death row for a decade or more, and hundreds more continue to be sentenced to death every year.