A mentally disabled Malaysian man was executed in Singapore on Wednesday, his family said, after losing a long legal battle and despite a storm of international criticism and appeals for clemency.
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 handed a death sentence the following year.
The plan to hang him sparked widespread criticism due to concerns about his intellectual disabilities, with the United Nations, the European Union and British billionaire Richard Branson among those condemning it.
Nagaenthran spent more than a decade mounting legal challenges but they were dismissed by Singapore’s courts, and the city-state’s president rejected appeals for clemency.
The 34-year-old was executed in the early hours, his sister Sarmila Dharmalingam told AFP.
“It is unbelievable that Singapore proceeded with the execution despite international appeals to spare his life,” she said, speaking from Malaysia.
She added the family was “extremely saddened” and “in a state of shock”.
Reprieve, an NGO that campaigns against the death penalty, said Nagaenthran was “the victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice.”
“Hanging an intellectually disabled, mentally unwell man… is unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international laws that Singapore has chosen to sign up to,” said the group’s director Maya Foa.
Nagaenthran was originally scheduled to be hanged in November but that was delayed as he sought to appeal on the grounds that executing someone with mental disabilities contravenes international law.
He was arrested aged 21 as he tried to enter Singapore with a bundle of heroin weighing about 43 grams (one and a half ounces) — equivalent to about three tablespoons.
Supporters say he has an IQ of 69, a level recognized as a disability, and was coerced into committing the crime.
But authorities have defended his conviction, saying legal rulings found he knew what he was doing at the time of the offense.
His mother mounted a desperate 11th-hour legal challenge Tuesday but it was swiftly rejected by a judge, prompting his relatives to break down in tears in court.
In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Branson had urged Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob to grant Nagaenthran clemency, calling the death penalty “inhumane.”
Singapore resumed executions last month after a hiatus of more than two years, when it executed another drug trafficker.
Activists now fear authorities are set to embark on a wave of hangings as several other death-row convicts have recently had appeals rejected.