Nagaenthran case places Singapore’s demise penalty in highlight

Singapore – Nagaenthran Dharmalingam stays confined to a cell in Singapore’s Changi Prison, living on demise row as he has been over the previous 11 years.

This week was set to be his final, however an eleventh hour keep of execution and the invention of a constructive COVID-19 take a look at, saved him alive — for now.

His story has triggered ripples within the tiny Southeast Asian city-state, intensifying the talk across the demise penalty in a rustic famed for its no-nonsense approach to crime.

In 2009, aged 21, Nagaenthran was caught attempting to enter Singapore with just below 43 grams of diamorphine (heroin) strapped to his thigh. A yr later, he was sentenced to demise.

Nagaenthran claimed he was coerced into carrying medication, though he later mentioned that he acted as a mule as a result of he wanted the cash.

His authorized crew has argued that his low IQ of 69 signifies an mental incapacity, affecting his means to make knowledgeable selections.

The case has provoked widespread worldwide condemnation from human rights teams to representatives from the European Union and British entrepreneur Richard Branson.

There was even a uncommon intervention from the Malaysian Prime Minister. Ismail Sabri Yaakob penned a letter to his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong, searching for leniency, in response to Malaysia’s state information company Bernama.

The plight of Nagaenthran has additionally generated uncommon criticism throughout the city-state itself. A petition began by a Singaporean to halt the execution has obtained greater than 80,000 signatures.

Sharmila Rockey, an anti-death penalty activist within the Transformative Justice Collective, holds a clemency petition for Malaysian Nagaenthran Dharmalingam earlier this week. Unusually, Naga’s case has attracted consideration past Singapore’s devoted campaigners in opposition to the demise penalty [Roslan Rahman/AFP]

Singapore has beforehand seen assist for the demise penalty. A 2019 survey by the Institute of Policy Studies of two,000 residents discovered 70 p.c agreed that execution was extra of a deterrent in opposition to critical crime than a life sentence.

But this case has reignited the talk about Singapore’s demise penalty.

“There are a few factors of Nagen’s case that catch people’s attention and garner sympathy,” mentioned native activist Kirsten Han.

“The fact that he has an IQ of only 69 and other cognitive impairments, and yet has still been sentenced to death with his execution scheduled, is really alarming.”

‘Criminal mind’

Intricate particulars of Nagaenthran’s case have been shared and scrutinised on-line. In Singapore, outrage in opposition to demise penalty instances is normally confined to fringe activist teams, however this story has gone mainstream.

High profile social media accounts shared pictures of the letter despatched to Nagaenthran’s household in Malaysia by the Singapore Prison Service.

It briefly outlined when their son could be executed, earlier than offering a stream of details about the logistics they should type so as to enter Singapore throughout the pandemic together with quarantine procedures.

“I’ve met individuals who expressed shock by how chilly the discover of execution to the household was. But that’s truly the usual approach that such notices are delivered to households.

“The only difference with Nagen’s family is that the letter was longer because they had to include COVID regulations,” Han defined.

Singapore has a zero-tolerance perspective in direction of medication, and anybody caught carrying greater than 15 grams of diamorphine might face the demise penalty.

There was, nevertheless, a slight leisure of the rules in 2012. The Misuse of Drugs Act was amended, giving judges the chance to interchange the demise penalty with life imprisonment with caning in particular instances.

One of those technicalities would permit for an offender to keep away from execution if they’re mentally disabled. It was on this level that Nagaenthran’s attraction was launched in 2015 and failed.

Nagaenthran’s familly realized of the plan to hold out the execution in a letter from Singapore Prison Service, which additionally detailed all of the COVID-19 protocols they would wish to abide by so as to see him  [Sarmila Dharmalingam via AP Photo]

Stephanie McLennan, Senior Asia Initiatives Manager at Human Rights Watch, instructed Al Jazeera that Nagaenthran obtained no “disability-specific accommodations” throughout his investigation and trial, a violation of worldwide regulation.

But the defence of an mental incapacity has been disputed by the Singapore courts.

In an announcement, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) mentioned: “He knew it was illegal for him to be transporting the medication, and he hid the medication to keep away from it being discovered.

“Despite knowing the unlawfulness of his acts, he undertook the criminal endeavour so that he could pay off some part of a monetary debt. The Court of Appeal found that this was the working of a criminal mind.”

Little affect on felony syndicates

If Nagaenthran is hanged, he’ll change into the primary individual to be executed in Singapore since 2019.

Over the final eight years, 35 folks have been killed by the state, in response to Singapore authorities knowledge. Twenty eight of them had been convicted of drug offences.

Singapore argues that its powerful justice system makes it one of many most secure locations on this planet.

Authorities say that drug traffickers are conscious of the rules and given the dangers confronted, the amount of unlawful substances smuggled into the nation is diminished.

Data from the MHA factors to a 66 p.c discount within the common internet weight of opium trafficked within the four-year interval after the necessary demise penalty was launched in 1990, for trafficking greater than 1,200 grams of opium.

But the danger of demise has not eradicated the unlawful drug commerce.

Last month, a Singaporean man failed in his attraction in opposition to a demise sentence after he was caught smuggling one kilo (2.2 kilos) of hashish into his homeland in 2018. And final yr, one other man was sentenced to demise over Zoom for his position in a drug deal again in 2011.

The Singapore authorities might market the last word punishment as the last word deterrent, however anti-death penalty campaigners see issues otherwise.

Singapore says the demise penalty is a mandatory and efficient deterrent to drug traffickers, however critics say it solely punishes small-time couriers reasonably than the felony kingpins behind the syndicates, inflicting grief to their households [File:  Roslan Rahman/AFP]

They argue that the demise penalty punishes small gamers in a a lot bigger sport.

“Drug trafficking is still as prevalent in the region and Singapore is no different. Most of the executions witnessed over the years has largely been mules or trafficking in relatively minor quantities,” Dobby Chew, Executive Co-ordinator of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network instructed Al Jazeera.

“The syndicates behind the drug trade are still very much present and in operation even with multiple executions over the years.”

Campaigners are eager for Nagaenthran’s case to remain on the high of the information agenda, probably appearing as a catalyst for extra assist to abolish executions.

“First they tried to execute someone who is intellectually disabled. Now they are granting him some form of mercy and treating him for COVID-19,” mentioned Chew.

“But for all we know, once he is cured, they’ll proceed with the execution. I think that the absurdity of the turn of events would force people to rethink what they know of the death penalty.”