Miss you, father. Haikal bin Nazeri burst into tears over his father’s gravestone at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, Singapore. Nazeri Bin Lajim was sentenced to death over 33.89 grams of heroin and hanged at 64 years old after spending his entire life fighting against addiction. Haikal describes him as a gentle and caring father.

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Killing In The Name

Piero Zilio | Singapore

Killing In The Name is a photo reportage about the families of death row inmates in Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore is a futuristic island-state in Southeast Asia, a green and orderly paradise, a wonder of technological progress, economic growth, political stability, and multicultural harmony. According to the International Monetary Fund, it ranks fifth in the world for nominal per capita gross domestic product. The Global Innovation Index awards its government 1st place for efficiency, and the Institute for Economics and Peace lists it as safest country based on citizens’ perceived safety.

Yet, Singapore ranked 129th on the World Press Freedom index 2023 and the country is among the six that carried out death sentences for drug-related offenses in 2022. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Bar Association have condemned its legislation claiming it limits access to lawyers for death row inmates.

I initiated this photo journalism project in mid 2022. For months, I gathered information remotely, with the invaluable assistance of local journalists, who connected me with activists, international human rights lawyers, and the families of death row inmates. Then I pulled out my camera.

I would like to thank the families of death row inmates for sharing their stories. Nazira, Sheila, and Haikal: sister, ex-wife, and son of Nazeri bin Lajim, who was hanged on July 22, 2022, for trafficking 33.89g of heroin. Kellvina and Sonia: niece and sister of Kalwant Singh, who was hanged on July 7, 2022, for trafficking 120.90g of heroin. Sara, Issac, and Angel Barnabas: mother, brother, and sister of Pannir Selvam, who is currently on death row for trafficking 51.84g of heroin. I would also like to express my gratitude to the lawyer and human rights advocate M Ravi for the interview, and to the activists Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham, Luke Levy David, and the Transformative Justice Collective of Singapore for providing valuable information. Thanks to Singapore, which I still consider a country inhabited by excellent people.

I want to thank my wife, my mother, and my family, for supporting me during the months (over a year) of research and realization of this important photographic project, which would hardly have reached Amnesty International without the help of my fellow colleague, journalist Claudia Onnis. Thanks to Chiara Sangiorgio, campaign manager at Amnesty International, and Massimo Moratti, human rights consultant, who put us in touch.

I extend my thanks to Michelangelo Sardo for his great availability and photographic advice during the selection and post-production of the shots. Thanks also to Maurizio Addis of Contrasti Fotografici and to Mirko Loi of the Associazione Artisti de La Ruota della Fortuna (Cagliari) for believing in my project.

A special thank you goes to Giulio Salomone and Pasquale D'Angelo for legal advice on drug offenses in Italy, and to Shirin Chew and Suang Wijaya, partners at the Eugene Thuraisingam LLP law firm in Singapore, for advice on the laws of their country.

I appreciate those in Singapore who, regardless of their views on the death penalty, helped me find information and useful references to develop the report, even though we have stopped communicating at this time.

Thanks to Elisabetta Zamparutti of Nessuno tocchi Caino, Andrea Lanzetta, and the Directors of TPI, Giulio Gambino, and Left, Simona Maggiorelli, for the visibility they provided to my texts and photos in their publications, as well as in L'Unità and Il Riformista. Thanks to Monia Melis and Kevin Lai for the interview on TGR Rai Sardegna on the World Day Against the Death Penalty. Thanks to Celestino Tabasso for his interview on L'Unione Sarda and Giorgio Saitz from Gazzetta Sarda. Thanks to Luigi Manconi of the Associazione A Buon Diritto, Alessandra Loi, Paola Carboni, Gianvito Distefano, Sergio Talamo, Brunilde Gambaro Siciliano, Vanina Pudda and Gianfranco Quartu for their contacts with the Italian press. To Claus Frost-Hansen, Maurizio Tyke Rodorigo, and France Breulet for their contacts with the media in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. Thanks to the editor of Indip - Independent In-Depth Magazine, Pablo Sole, for his trust in the early stages of this photojournalistic project.

I also want to express my gratitude to stampeperfotografi.com, Giorgia Loddo and the Fine Art Studio - Accademia di Fotografia in Cagliari, where four prints from this project have been exhibited from October 28 to November 5, 2023. Thanks to Edoardo Tocco, President of Cagliari Municipality Council, and Elisabetta Secchi from Amnesty International Sardegna for opening the premiere.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me or simply shown interest in my work, and whom I haven't had the opportunity to thank in this lengthy post.

I fell in love with Singapore since the very first time I stepped foot on this wonderful country in 2003. That time, a red stamp on my immigration card warned me about "Death penalty for drug traffikers". Since then, I've visited the country several times, and in the past 10 years I have started collaborating with Singapore-based companies and international organisations.

But in the back of my head that red stamp from 20 years ago reminded me that the Singapore I knew was very different from the Singapore some of its citizen were experiencing. Rather than turning my face the other way, I decided to look straight into one of the country most controversial issues: its zero tolerance policy against drug traffickers. I decided to shift the attention to the families of death row inmates, pro-bono lawyers and active citizens, who pay a high financial, personal, and emotional toll.

I wanted to document the situation and share their stories, letting facts speak for themselves and stimulating a constructive and respectful discussion around this topic.

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