Stephen Fry, Richard Branson and UK MPs call on Singapore to halt execution of man with mental disability

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The authorities in Singapore are set to execute a mentally-disabled Malaysian man who has been on death row for more than a decade, despite rising international calls for him to be spared.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam was arrested for trafficking 42.72g of pure heroin into the Asian country in April 2009, and officials have confirmed that he will be executed at dawn on Wednesday 27 April after his last hopes for an appeal were rejected.

The Malaysian national was initially set to be executed last year but the sentence was halted after he contracted Covid-19 in November.

Following this, his lawyers mounted a final appeal seeking a reprieve for Dharmalingam. His lawyers argued that he has an IQ of 69 – a level internationally recognised as an “intellectual disability” – and is not mentally fit to face execution.

But the appeal, as well as demands for an independent psychiatric evaluation, were rejected.

One of his lawyers, M Ravi, had told the court that Dharmalingam also has other mental disorders, which impact his decision-making abilities and impulse control.

Soon after officials confirmed the execution date, Mr Ravi said: “All Singaporeans will have blood on their hands if the execution is done in their names.”

Activists hold posters against the execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam outside the Singapore High Commision in Kuala Lumpur on 9 March (AFP via Getty)
Activists hold posters against the execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam outside the Singapore High Commision in Kuala Lumpur on 9 March (AFP via Getty)

“Just received the heartbreaking news that Nagaenthran will be hanged next Wednesday (April 27),” Mr Ravi said on Facebook.

“The Singapore state will never be able to recover from the disgrace it’s going to face internationally in hanging an intellectually disabled person,” he said, adding: “Everything in the case is wrong from the beginning.”

“Even the government psychiatrist at the trial admitted that Nagaenthran suffered from an abnormality of mind. I will say that all Singaporeans will have blood in their hands next Wednesday as the execution is done in their name,” the prominent human rights lawyer said.

The high-profile execution case has sparked a global outcry and support for the Malaysian national as activists and human rights groups have asked authorities to commute the death sentence.

British billionaire Richard Branson, actor-broadcaster Stephen Fry, disability-rights activists Timothy Shriver and several United Nations experts have appealed for mercy for Dharmalingam with Singapore’s president Halimah Yacob and prime minister 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,” Fry said in a joint video statement released on Friday.

He added that Dharmalingam did not deserve to die. “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.

Appealing to the country’s authorities, 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.”

Fry added that the Malaysian man’s execution would “cast a dark shadow on many of those commitments”.

“That’s a great risk to your country’s reputation in the world – including its reputation in the world of business,” Branson said.

British MP Chris Matheson, who is the vice chair of the all party parliamentary group for Singapore, has also written to the Asian country’s president, pointing out that Dharmalingam’s right to life is protected by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by Singapore on 18 July 2013.

In the letter, seen by The Independent, the Labour MP said that the convention’s Article 10 requires states to “refrain from imposing the death penalty on individuals who face specific barriers in defending themselves on an equal basis with others, such as persons whose psycho-social and intellectural disabilities impeded their effective defense”.

Mr Matheson and other signatories of the letter, including Dan Jarvis, Sir Peter Bottomley and Hilary Benn, noted that Dharmalingam was not provided with any such accommodations throughout the legal process.

“When he was informed of the court's verdict on 29 March, he was reported to have shown no visible reaction to the prospect of execution,” the letter to Ms Halimah read.

Human rights organisation Reprieve has also condemned the decision.

“Nagen’s belief that he may be coming home and his excitement about being reunited with his family is heart-breaking evidence that he does not fully understand he faces execution in less than a week,” Maya Foa, Reprieve’s director, said.

“Killing someone who clearly lacks mental competency will directly undermine Singapore’s efforts to champion the rights of persons with disabilities,” she added.

Ms Foa has appealed to the Singaporean administration to grant Dharmalingam clemency or to transfer him to Malaysia “where he may receive family support and care for his condition and his deteriorating mental state”.

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