Home News Singapore court delays execution of Malaysian disabled person due to COVID-19

Singapore court delays execution of Malaysian disabled person due to COVID-19

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, 33, was scheduled to be executed by hanging in Singapore’s Changi prison on Wednesday

A Singapore court Tuesday postponed the imminent execution of a Malaysian man whom campaigners say is mentally disabled after he tested positive for COVID-19, meaning a last-ditch appeal could not proceed.

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. He was sentenced to death the following year.

He was scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday after losing a series of appeals, despite mounting international outrage and supporters’ claims his intellectual disability means he is incapable of making rational decisions.

The execution was put on hold after a last-resort appeal was lodged, with the Court of Appeal due to hear the challenge Tuesday.

But Judge Andrew Phang Boon Leong announced Nagaenthran had contracted COVID-19, meaning the appeal could not proceed and the execution was stayed.

He cited “logic, common sense and humanity” in deciding to delay the hanging.

Nagaenthran’s lawyer, M. Ravi, told reporters he was “pleasantly surprised that this man, because of COVID, cannot be executed.”

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He had been “saved by none other than the divine force,” he added.

There was no immediate indication of when the appeal might now go ahead.

‘Illegal, ineffective’

Ahead of the court proceedings, campaigners had warned the appeal might be hastily dismissed, paving the way for the execution to take place Wednesday as originally scheduled.

A group of United Nations human rights experts on Monday added their voice to growing concerns surrounding the case, saying that people with intellectual disabilities should not be executed.

“Resorting to this type of punishment to prevent drug trafficking is not only illegal under international law, it is also ineffective,” they said.

The European Union has called for his sentence to be commuted and Malaysia’s prime minister has written to his Singaporean counterpart urging a delay in the execution.

An online petition calling for Nagaenthran’s death sentence to be commuted has garnered almost 70,000 signatures.

If the execution does eventually go ahead, it will be the first since 2019 in Singapore, which defends its use of capital punishment as an effective deterrent against crime.

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 recognized as a disability — was struggling with an alcohol problem, and was coerced into committing the crime.

But Singapore’s home affairs ministry has 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 offense.

Sharmila Rockey, an anti-death penalty activist in the Transformative Justice Collective, holds a clemency appeal petition letter in the drug trafficking case of Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, before submitting it to the Istana presidential palace, in Singapore on Nov. 8, 2021. (AFP Photo)

Call for stop to execution

Southeast Asian parliamentarians have earlier in the day called for a stop to the scheduled execution in Changi prison.

During his trial, Nagaenthran was assessed as having an IQ of 69, a level internationally recognized to qualify as an intellectual disability.

He was also assessed to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and severe alcohol use disorder that together could affect his judgment, ability to assess risks, decision-making, and impulse control.

“We cannot let a mentally impaired person be sent to the gallows,” said Kasthuri Patto, a member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHRC) and the Malaysian parliament, in a statement on November 9.

“We urge Singapore to show mercy and compassion to commute his death sentence in accordance with international human rights law, especially as Singapore is a signatory to the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities,” said Patto.

“We are not asking to pardon him but to show clemency to stop his execution, especially given that he may not have fully understood the consequences of his actions due to his intellectual disabilities,” added Patto’s statement.

The regional parliamentarians noted that in the past Malaysia stoped the execution of a Nigerian man who was diagnosed as being schizophrenic on grounds of compassion and commuted the death sentence to life.

“No crime committed should remain unpunished but never should any country execute a person with intellectual disabilities,” said Patto.

APHRC said Nagaenthran’s 11 years on death row has “reportedly caused further deterioration of his mental health” and that the decision to carry out an execution during the pandemic and the additional impact of the sentence on his family “may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

UN experts have previously stated that it is “a violation of death penalty safeguards to impose capital punishment on individuals suffering from psychosocial disabilities.”

International law considers the imposition and enforcement of the death penalty on persons with mental disabilities a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

The ASEAN legislators also said that sentencing and executing a person suffering from intellectual disabilities would be in violation of Singapore’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the State in 2013.

APHR reiterated its stand against the death penalty, saying it is “inhumane, an affront to human dignity, and violates the very foundation of all other human rights, the right to life.”

“In addition to being illegal under international law, there is also no compelling evidence that capital punishment deters crimes,” it added.

APHR also urges the Singaporean government to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, noting that judicial processes are not flawless and wrongful execution cannot be undone. – with a report from Agence France Presse

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