Singapore halts execution of Malaysian drug offender with low IQ after he contracts Covid

·2-min read
This undated photo provided by Sarmila Dharmalingam shows her younger brother Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam holding his nephew  (Internal/ Sarmila Dharmalingam)
This undated photo provided by Sarmila Dharmalingam shows her younger brother Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam holding his nephew (Internal/ Sarmila Dharmalingam)

A court in Singapore has halted the execution of Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, whose case sparked international outcry after he was convicted of smuggling a small amount of drugs, after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Dharmalingam was due to be hanged on Wednesday morning for the crime of trafficking nearly 42.72 grams of pure heroin in April 2009.

An appeals court heard the case on Tuesday after his lawyers argued that he was not mentally fit to face such a punishment, having an IQ of 69.

And while a ruling was not given on the appeal, judges said the hanging should be stayed until further notice on the grounds of “common sense and humanity” after it was revealed that the convict had contracted Covid.

”We have got to use logic, common sense and humanity," the judge said, staying the execution order.

Hanging mentally unfit Dharmalingam, his lawyer has argued, would violate Singapore’s constitution provided that the man is intellectually disabled.

An IQ level of 69 is internationally recognised as a mental disability, Dharmalingam’s lawyer M Ravi has told the court, adding that his client has other disorders which impact his decision-making and impulse control.

The courts have previously rejected these pleas, saying that the Malaysian drug offender knew what he was doing.

Singapore’s decision to execute the man has garnered international flak from public figures, lawyers, UN experts and the British billionaire Richard Branson among several others, who have urged the Asian country to commute the death sentence.

Stating that death sentences must not be carried out on people with serious psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, a group of UN human rights experts said: “We are concerned that Mr Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam did not have access to procedural accommodations for his disability during his interrogation.”

Malaysian prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had reached out to his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong and sought leniency for Dharmalingam “purely on humanitarian grounds” in a letter.

As recently as last weekend, the European Union Delegation to Singapore, along with the diplomatic missions of Norway and Switzerland in the country, asked for the execution to be halted.

British billionaire Richard Branson also asked the Singapore president to not proceed with the death sentence.

“It’s almost always the most vulnerable people, people struggling to make ends meet, immigrants in need of money, that are roped into criminal schemes, unable to defend themselves when caught and facing the court,” Branson said in a statement on Monday.

“It’s impossible not to see the extent to which inequality, poverty and the death penalty are linked,” he added.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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