Lawyer: Singapore acting like N. Korea in treatment of Malaysian death row inmate with mental disability

R. Loheswar
Mother of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, Panchalai Supermaniam, speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya July 23, 2019. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 — Lawyers for Liberty legal adviser N. Surendran today likened Singapore to North Korea in its treatment of mentally challenged inmate on death row, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam.

Surendran said executing a mentally challenged man was against international law and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Singapore had ratified.

“It is beyond dispute that he suffers from mental disability and the evaluation was made by an independent psychiatrist and the evidence has been submitted to court,” he told a press conference here today.

“Singapore is putting itself in the same category as Iran or North Korea in sentencing to death or putting on death row a mentally challenged individual. This is a matter of grave seriousness” he said.

Surendran said Nagaenthran or Naga, 31 was found to have an IQ of 69.

"This means he has an “extremely low range of functioning” and has borderline intellectual functions," he said.

Naga’s condition was also assessed by an independent and prominent psychiatrist, Dr Ken Ung Eng Khean, who diagnosed him with mental and intellectual impairment.

The Singapore courts hired three psychiatrists of their own and two of them concurred that Naga suffers from a mild form of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) of the inattentive type where his executive functioning skills are impaired.

The third psychiatrist Dr Koh Wun Wu’s expert evidence was made without further independent medical examination of Naga, but was made from reading the reports of the other two state psychiatrists.

“In considering the views of psychiatrists, the State (Singapore) has been shown to be inherently biased in its attitude towards independent psychiatrists. This is highly prejudicial to the accused persons and accordingly breaches their rights to a fair trial.

“The very fact they rejected the report and condemned Naga’s mental disability is indicative of the state of Singapore and their judicial attitude towards drug offenders and offences.

“So how do our citizens get a fair trial in Singapore?” Surendran asked.

Naga was 21 when he was caught while entering Singapore from Malaysia at Woodlands Checkpoint with a bundle of diamorphine, or heroin, strapped to his thigh.

He admitted that he knew the bundle contained heroin, explaining at the time that a friend known only as "King" had strapped it to his thigh so that no one would find it.

Naga has been in prison for a decade with eight of those years served under death row.

LFL decided to help Naga and has been collaborating with Singaporean lawyer and human rights activist M. Ravi, who represents Naga’s family.

“The institutions are all under the thumb of the executive in Singapore and that goes for the state psychiatrists also.

“They accept in totality whatever is said by the state, but fight tooth and nail the diagnosis of independent and highly qualified medical practitioners," Surendran added.

Meanwhile, Ravi, who was also present today said: “This is wrong as there are manuals on the death penalty trials where this practice is unacceptable in criminal trials. Each psychiatrist, be they from the State or otherwise, must base their findings on the side of objectivity.

"They must look at the medical reports. If not we can send the report to someone in the United States and they can also come to their own conclusions,” he added in addressing Dr Koh’s recommendations without ever seeing Naga himself.

Since being in prison, Naga’s first appeal was to be re-sentenced under amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act that were passed in 2012.

The amendments allow a court to sentence a drug offender to life imprisonment instead of death if they were merely a courier, on the condition that the public prosecutor issues the offender a certificate of substantive assistance — for helping Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore to disrupt drug trafficking activities.

Additionally, the court must also sentence the offender to life imprisonment if he or she was merely a courier and also suffering from an abnormality of the mind.

Despite Naga’s obvious mental disability, the High Court Judge and the Court of Appeal opined that borderline intellectual functioning was insufficient to qualify Naga as suffering from an “abnormality of the mind".

In May, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said it is “not tenable” for Singapore to go easy on Malaysian drug offenders who are caught in Singapore.

He said the majority of Singaporeans favour the death penalty and it would be good for both sides if drug traffickers were caught by Malaysian authorities, as the offenders could be dealt with according to Malaysia’s laws and not have to worry about Singapore’s capital punishment.

“Shanmugam said we can’t go easy on Malaysians, so I want to ask him if he’s going to execute someone with mental disability?” asked Surendran.

A clemency application has been sent to Singapore to save Naga, but since 1998, Singapore has granted no clemency for anyone and the likelihood of Naga being saved is slim.

LFL and Ravi have urged the Malaysian government to intervene, calling it an act of ‘barbarism’ from Singapore.

They want Putrajaya to file a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ICJ will apply international conventions, international customs, general principles of law recognised by civilised nations, judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicist as a means for determining the rules of law in accordance with Article 38(1)(a) and (b) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ Statute).

Meanwhile, Naga’s mother Ranchalai Subramaniam, 57, pleaded to the media to save her son.

“Please save him. My son knowingly or unknowingly has made a mistake. We’re from a very difficult background and we all love him very much.

“He mixed with some people and ended up like this. Somehow please save him,” was all she could say as she teared up.

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