Singapore halts execution of disabled man in drug case

·2-min read

A Singapore court put the execution of a Malaysian man on hold Monday pending an appeal, after criticism from rights campaigners who say he is intellectually disabled.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for trafficking 43 grams -- around three tablespoons -- of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the world's toughest anti-drugs laws.

He was sentenced to death the following year and was due to be hanged on Wednesday after losing several appeals, despite supporters' claims his intellectual disability means he is unable to make rational decisions.

But on Monday, the Singapore High Court ordered the execution be put on hold after his lawyers launched a last-ditch legal challenge, arguing that the hanging would be unconstitutional.

The court dismissed the challenge, but agreed to delay the hanging until the Court of Appeal hears the case.

"Good news," lawyer M. Ravi wrote on Facebook, alongside the hashtags #EndCrimeNotLife and #DivineJustice.

But later his Malaysia-based lawyer N. Surendran said the appeal court had set Tuesday to hear the case, accusing authorities of rushing it so the execution might still take place Wednesday.

"No criminal justice system in any country which upholds the rule of law, rushes through criminal appeals in this manner -- and all the more so in a death penalty case," he said in a statement.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have labelled the planned execution "despicable" and "cruel", while the European Union at the weekend urged the city-state to commute the sentence.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob wrote to his Singapore counterpart urging the execution to be postponed on "humanitarian grounds", according to reports.

An online petition calling for Nagaenthran's death sentence to be commuted has garnered more than 65,000 signatures.

If the execution goes ahead, it will the first since 2019 in Singapore, which defends its use of capital punishment as an effective deterrent against crime despite mounting calls for its abolition.

Supporters say Nagaenthran has an IQ of 69, a level recognised as an intellectual disability, and was struggling with an alcohol problem at the time of the crime.

But Singapore's home affairs ministry has defended the decision to press ahead with the hanging, saying that legal rulings had found he "knew what he was doing" at the time of the offence.

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