Singapore: A mentally impaired Malaysian man has lost his high-profile appeal against execution in Singapore and could be hanged within days.
Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, 32, had attracted worldwide coverage of his bid to avoid the death penalty in the city state for smuggling 42.72 grams of heroin from Malaysia in 2009.
Nagaenthran Dharmalingam pictured with his nephew.
Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had joined rights groups in calling for the prisoner to be spared capital punishment because of his IQ of 69.
However, on Tuesday a five-judge panel in Singapore’s top court, the Court of Appeal, rejected Nagaenthran’s bid and an attempt by his legal team to seek an independent psychiatric assessment.
Singapore takes a notoriously hard line on the importation of narcotics but it has not carried out a death penalty since 2019, when four prisoners were executed.
The family of another death row inmate at Changi Prison, Abdul Kahar bin Othman, received notice that he was scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday, according to the Transformative Justice Collective. The 68-year-old was convicted in 2013 of trafficking 66.77 grams of diamorphine to Singapore.
Singaporean courts had previously dismissed efforts by Nagaenthran’s lawyers to commute his sentence due to a mental disability, disputing the extent of his impairment and arguing he had been well aware he was committing a serious crime when he tried to cross the border from Malaysia with the drugs in a bundle strapped to his thigh.
Nagaenthran’s team submitted a new medical report by Australian consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Danny Sullivan, executive director of clinical services at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, to support its claim that his life be spared. Sullivan, in his report, requested the court “reconsiders the death penalty as appropriate for a man with borderline intellectual functioning which was likely to have been causally associated with his offending”.
However, the nation’s top court took only minutes on Tuesday to throw out the case.
It comes after an appeal for clemency to Singaporean President Halimah Yacob was also unsuccessful.
Anti-death penalty groups say Nagaenthran’s execution could be carried out imminently.
Changi Prison, where Nagaenthran has been on death row for 12 years.Credit:Getty Images
“We are extremely concerned about rushed hearings and decisions in this case, in violation of Nagaenthran’s fair trial rights,” said Maya Foa, the director of human rights non-government organisation Reprieve.
“Nagaenthran should be protected from the death penalty because of his intellectual disability. The heart-wrenching fact that he believes he is going home to his family and talks about sharing home-cooked meals with them shows that he does not fully understand he faces execution and lacks the mental competency to be executed.”
Nagaenthran’s impending execution gained global attention late last year after he was scheduled by Singapore Prison Service to be hanged at Changi Prison on November 10.
Mounting a last-minute challenge, he had a temporary stay granted on the day before execution date when he tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn’t return to court.
Singapore once had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world, with more than 400 prisoners hanged between 1991 and 2004, mainly for drug crimes.
According to Singapore Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, the majority of Singaporeans still support the death penalty.
Releasing preliminary findings from a government survey in Parliament this month, he said most Singapore residents agreed capital punishment acted as an effective deterrent against serious offences.
“On the question as to whether the mandatory death penalty is appropriate, 81 per cent said it was appropriate for intentional murder, 71 per cent said it was appropriate for firearm offences, 66 per cent said it was appropriate for drug trafficking,” he said.
“And more than 80 per cent also believed that the death penalty had deterred the commission of these offences in Singapore.”
However, Simone Abel, chief executive of the Australian-based Capital Punishment Justice Project, said Singapore was failing to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, labelling it “a damning indictment on Singapore’s claim to be a modern and progressive state”.
Vietnam was the only country in south-east Asia to have carry out death sentences in 2020, according to Amnesty International’s annual global report on state-imposed executions.
While the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand retain capital punishment in their laws, they either have unofficial moratoriums on the sentences being delivered with none taking place in the last four years.
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