Singapore’s top court will Tuesday hear the last-ditch appeal of a Malaysian man facing execution despite concerns he is mentally disabled, a case that has triggered an international outcry.
Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for trafficking a small amount of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws, and sentenced to death the following year.
After losing several appeals during more than a decade on death row, the 34-year-old was finally scheduled to be hanged several months ago.
But the plan sparked widespread criticism due to concerns he has intellectual disabilities, with the European Union, UN experts and British billionaire Richard Branson among those condemning it.
He lodged a final legal challenge, which was delayed after he contracted Covid-19, but it will go ahead Tuesday at the Court of Appeal.
Campaigners fear chances of success are slim and Nagaenthran may lose and be hanged soon afterwards, in what would be the first execution in Singapore since 2019.
Concerns are also growing that his hanging will be the first in a series in the near future, as activists believe authorities are gearing up to execute three other drug traffickers.
– ‘Spare him’ –
Nagaenthran’s family are anxiously awaiting the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing.
“We are worried about what’s going to happen,” his sister Sarmila Dharmalingam told AFP from the family home in Tanjung Rambutan, in the northern Malaysian state of Perak.
“We are stressed and frightened thinking of my brother’s current situation”.
She urged the Singapore government to “spare him from the gallows, give him a second chance”.
Rights groups have been ratcheting up pressure on Singapore, with Amnesty International researcher Rachel Chhoa-Howard this month criticising the government for planning to resume “cruel” executions.
“It is high time for Singapore to re-establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards full abolition,” she said.
Nagaenthran was arrested at the age of 21 after a bundle of heroin weighing around 43 grams — equivalent to about three tablespoons — was found strapped to his thigh as he sought to enter Singapore.
Supporters say he has an IQ of 69 — a level recognised as a disability — and was coerced into committing the crime.
But authorities have 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.
The city-state maintains the death penalty for several offences, including drug trafficking and murder, and insists it has helped to keep Singapore one of Asia’s safest places.
© Agence France-Presse