Branson urges Singapore not to execute disabled man

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British tycoon Richard Branson has said it would be 'inhumane' for Singapore to execute Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam (AFP/Daniel LEAL) (Daniel LEAL)
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British tycoon Richard Branson on Tuesday urged Singapore to spare the life of a mentally disabled Malaysian facing execution, telling AFP the death penalty was a "horrible blotch" on the city-state's reputation.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, convicted of trafficking a small amount of heroin into Singapore, is due to be hanged on Wednesday after more than a decade on death row.

The planned execution has sparked an international outcry, with the United Nations and European Union among those condemning a punishment they say is cruel and ineffective as a deterrent.

In an interview with AFP, Branson, a long-time campaigner against the death penalty, urged Singaporean President Halimah Yacob to grant Nagaenthran clemency.

"I really just hope that on Wednesday evening, she does not have this young man's death on her hands," said the billionaire founder of Virgin Group.

Branson, who is part of a group with other business leaders that campaigns against capital punishment, said they were urging the president to pardon Nagaenthran.

"We just beg her to grant him clemency. We beg her to reconsider whether in this day and age Singapore should... be in the business of hanging people.

"It's just so inhumane".

"I don't think civilised countries should be in the business of killing their own people, or killing anybody," he added.

While the president’s role is largely ceremonial in Singapore, Halimah has the power to grant clemency, which is effectively Nagaenthran’s last chance to be spared after exhausting the usual appeals process.

- 'Abolish the death penalty' -

Branson said he had "enormous respect" for the financial hub, but that capital punishment was the one aspect of Singapore that was "really negative".

"It's the one horrible blotch on its reputation," the 71-year-old said, speaking via video call from his home in the British Virgin Islands.

He urged the city-state to "abolish the death penalty altogether" and "do what most other civilised countries have done".

Nagaenthran, 34, was originally scheduled to be executed in November but lodged an appeal that was finally rejected by Singapore's top court last month.

He was arrested aged 21 as he tried to enter Singapore with a bundle of heroin weighing about 43 grams (one and a half ounces) -- equivalent to about three tablespoons.

Supporters say he has an IQ of 69, a level recognised as a disability, and was coerced into committing the crime.

But authorities have defended his conviction, saying that legal rulings found he knew what he was doing at the time of the offence.

His mother will mount a further legal challenge at Singapore's Court of Appeal later Tuesday.

Chances of success look slim, but Branson urged the judge hearing the case to "have some humanity for the mother of this young man".

Nagaenthran's case has also generated some concern in Singapore, and hundreds of people held a candlelight vigil at a downtown park late Monday to protest the looming execution.

After a hiatus of more than two years, Singapore resumed executions last month when it put a drug trafficker to death.

Activists fear authorities are now set to embark on a wave of executions -- another Malaysian convicted of drugs offences is scheduled to be hanged Friday, while several other death row convicts recently had appeals rejected.

Singapore defends its use of the death penalty, which it maintains for several offences. Authorities insist that it has helped keep the city-state one of Asia's safest places.

sr/cwl

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