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The Straits Times
October 18, 2022
A woman who repeatedly scalded her five-year-old son until he died from his injuries was sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday, after the Court of Appeal rejected a call by prosecutors to impose the death penalty.
Azlin Arujunah and her husband Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, both 30, had splashed hot water on the boy on four occasions in 2016, at their one-room flat in Toa Payoh.
They were originally given 27 years’ jail each in 2020 for causing grievous hurt by dangerous means, with Ridzuan also sentenced to receive 24 strokes of the cane.
But in July, the Court of Appeal increased Ridzuan’s sentence to life imprisonment with no caning, and convicted Azlin of murder, following an appeal by prosecutors.
In sentencing Azlin on Tuesday, the five-judge panel said the death penalty was not warranted because she did not comprehend that the boy’s injuries could have fatal consequences.
The court said it accepted that objectively, reasonable members of the community would find Azlin’s actions cruel and inhumane.
However, the imposition of the death penalty must be justified in the first place by reference to the offender’s state of mind and motivation, and the key inquiry is whether the offender acted in a way that exhibited a “blatant disregard for human life”, said the court.
While cruelty or a display of inhumane treatment is a relevant factor, the court “should not be distracted by the gruesomeness of the scene of the crime” in determining whether the death penalty should be imposed, it added.
While Azlin’s acts of abuse against her young son were “immensely disturbing”, the yardstick must be one that is rational and principled, rather than one that is visceral, said the court.
“We are not satisfied that Azlin manifested such a blatant disregard for human life. We therefore do not consider that the threshold has been crossed for the imposition of the death penalty,” said the court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
As for Ridzuan, the court removed the sentence of 12 strokes of the cane he had been given in relation to one of the eight other charges he had been convicted of.
While Ridzuan and Azlin have been convicted of different charges, the apex court said the pair share a very similar degree of culpability in this case.
“Their roles and the surrounding circumstances are similar, and most of the charges were committed by both of them in furtherance of their common intention. Both of them also shared parental responsibility for the deceased. Consequently, as a matter of fairness, the starting position should be that Ridzuan should not be sentenced to a more onerous sentence than Azlin,” said the court.
The couple had splashed hot water on the boy on four occasions between Oct 15 and Oct 22, 2016, and took him to hospital only about seven hours after he had collapsed following the final incident.
Azlin splashed water on the boy in the first three incidents and instigated Ridzuan to deal with the boy in the fourth incident; Ridzuan also splashed water on the boy in the second incident.
In what prosecutors described as “one of the worst cases of child abuse”, the boy died from horrific scald injuries, which covered about 75 per cent of his body, on Oct 23, 2016.
The couple also committed other acts of abuse against the child, including confining him to a pet cage and pinching him with a pair of pliers.
The pair, who have other children, originally faced a charge of murder with common intention to inflict fatal scald injuries on the boy.
The boy and his siblings cannot be identified due to a gag order.