Singapore urged not to hang mentally disabled trafficker

·2-min read
Supporters say that Nagaenthran has an IQ of just 69, a level that is recognised as an intellectual disability (AFP/Mohd RASFAN)

Singapore faced calls Friday not to hang a mentally disabled Malaysian man for trafficking a small amount of heroin into the city-state, with campaigners criticising the planned execution as "despicable".

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for transporting 43 grams -- equivalent to about three tablespoons -- of the drug into Singapore, and sentenced to death the following year.

After exhausting a series of legal challenges in the city-state, which has some of the world's toughest anti-narcotics laws, the 33-year-old is scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday.

It will be the first execution since 2019 in Singapore, which maintains the death penalty is an effective deterrent against crime despite mounting pressure from rights groups for its abolition.

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

"To hang a person convicted merely of carrying drugs, amid chilling testimony that he might not even fully understand what is happening to him, is despicable," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard from Amnesty International.

"We urge the authorities to immediately halt plans to execute Nagaenthran."

Human Rights Watch said it was a breach of international law to execute someone with an intellectual disability, and proceeding with the hanging would be "disproportionate and cruel".

- 'Very shocked' -

Nagaenthran's elder sister Sarmila said the family were "very shocked" when they heard that the execution was planned.

"We really can't accept it," the 35-year-old told AFP from the northern Malaysian city of Ipoh.

Sarmila took her mother and another relative to catch a flight earlier on Friday to the neighbouring city-state, where they will be able to visit Nagaenthran in the days before he is hanged.

She said her mother "just keeps on crying", and that she reassured her, saying: "Don't worry and don't give up, just keep on praying that something will happen".

Nagaenthran's legal team will mount a last-ditch challenge on Monday, arguing that the execution would violate Singapore's constitution.

"We are hoping for the best," Sarmila said.

After a recent visit to Nagaenthran, his lawyer M. Ravi said that the inmate could have "a mental age below 18", and slammed the planned execution as "irrational and a capricious act of the state".

Singapore's home affairs ministry defended the decision to press ahead with the hanging, saying that legal rulings had found he was not suffering from an "abnormality of mind" at the time of the offence.

"Nagaenthran was found to have clearly understood the nature of his acts," it said in a statement.

sr/dva

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