Disabled man set to be executed in Singapore as final appeal rejected

·4-min read
People display placards and during a vigil for Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore (AFP via Getty Images)
People display placards and during a vigil for Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore (AFP via Getty Images)

Singapore is set to execute a mentally disabled Malaysian national on Wednesday morning for smuggling drugs into the country in 2009 despite mounting pleas from across the globe to halt the death sentence.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian Indian with an IQ of 69 and other mental disorders which impact his decision-making, was sentenced to death by a court of appeal in Singapore in 2010 for smuggling 42.72 grams of heroin strapped to his thigh.

He is scheduled to be executed by the authorities despite a last-ditch effort made by his mother Panchalai Supermaniam on Tuesday that was rejected by the court. Mr Dharmalingam had already lost what was considered a final appeal last month.

“Nothing short of a reprieve from president or the prime minister can save the life of Dharmalingam now,” Malaysian lawyer N Surendran told The Independent, just hours before the execution is set to take place.

If carried out, this will be the second execution in Singapore this year after another drug trafficking convict aged 68 years was executed last month.

Mr Dharmalingam’s lawyer M Ravi confirmed the sentence on Facebook and said: “Not only Nagaenthran faces a breach of fair trial and breach of international law in Singapore executing an intellectually disabled person, it is a shame that Singapore lawyers have been cowed into fear of representing Nagaenthran.”

He added that an additional cost has been imposed on him and another lawyer who represented the Malaysian man “to punish” them for defending the convict.

Panchalai Supermaniam (centre), mother of the Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore, arrives at the Supreme Court for the final appeal in Singapore on 26 April 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)
Panchalai Supermaniam (centre), mother of the Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore, arrives at the Supreme Court for the final appeal in Singapore on 26 April 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

“Immediately dismissing this motion so they can rush Nagen to the gallows at dawn tomorrow lays bare the truth about what fair trial rights and access to justice looks like in death penalty cases in Singapore, despite the Government’s repeated claims to afford those facing the death penalty full due process,” Maya Foa, director of human rights organisation Reprieve, said on Tuesday.

She added that the convict’s mother had to represent herself legally in the court because of “Singaporean authorities’ relentless intimidation of lawyers who defend people facing the death penalty, further undermines its professed respect for the rule of law.”

“The hearing ended with Nagen pleading with the judges for time to speak to his family in the courtroom itself, where a slit in the glass will allow them to hold hands,” Singapore-based journalist Kirsten Han said on Twitter.

“His [Dharmalingam] family were allowed to touch him in the courtroom for awhile, then have 2 hours with him in the basement of the Supreme Court building - where they will be separated by glass,” she said on Twitter.

Lawyers and activists in southeast Asia have thrown their weight behind the case, seeking a lesser punishment instead of capital punishment, stating that it violates the convict’s right to relief as he suffers from a mental disability.

“Nagaenthran’s final appeal was just dismissed in appalling circumstances. His mother’s pleas to be allowed to appoint a lawyer were ignored by the court,” Mr Surendran said on Twitter.

He added that the verdict in the case was “given without hearing from Nagaen’s side at all”, and called it an “utter and barbaric disregard of rule of law.”

Lawmakers and prominent personalities across the world have rallied for clemency for the man, stating that the Asian country is obligated to protect Mr Dharmalingam’s right to life under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by Singapore in 2013.

Singapore, however, maintains a zero-tolerance towards drug-related offences and regards them as the “most serious crime”. The government says the death penalty is a deterrent against drug trafficking and that most of its citizens support capital punishment.

Last week, British billionaire Richard Branson, actor-broadcaster Stephen Fry, disability-rights activist Timothy Shriver and several UN experts reiterated their appeal for mercy for Mr Dharmalingam to Singapore’s president Halimah Yacob and PM Lee Hsien Loong.

“Please spare the life of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a young Malaysian man who has been living with an intellectual disability on death row in Singapore for more than a decade,” Mr Fry urged in a joint video statement released on Friday.

“He has been living with an intellectual disability as defined under international human rights law,” he said, adding that the Malaysian’s mental state has worsened during his imprisonment and that he did not deserve to die.

Appealing to the country’s authorities, Mr Branson said: “Singapore has always led from the front when it comes to the rights of people with disabilities and championing their inclusion in society.”

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