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Singapore halts execution of disabled man in drug case

An activist holds a poster before submitting a memorandum to parliament in protest at the impending execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, taken on November 3, 2021. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP

A Singapore court put the execution of a Malaysian man in a drug trafficking case on hold Monday after a last-ditch legal challenge, his lawyer said, following criticism from campaigners who say he is mentally disabled.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for carrying 43 grams — around three tablespoons — of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the world’s toughest anti-drugs laws.

He was sentenced to death the following year and was due to be hanged on Wednesday after losing several appeals, despite supporters’ claims his intellectual disability means he can’t make rational decisions.

But on Monday the Singapore High Court agreed to postpone the execution pending a new appeal from his lawyers, who are arguing that the hanging would be unconstitutional.

“Good news,” his lawyer M. Ravi wrote on Facebook, alongside the hashtags #EndCrimeNotLife and #DivineJustice. 

The case will now head to the Court of Appeal for further hearings. It was not immediately clear how long the execution would be halted.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have labelled the planned execution “despicable” and “cruel”, while the European Union at the weekend urged the city-state to commute the sentence.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob wrote to his Singapore counterpart urging the execution to be postponed on “humanitarian grounds”, according to reports. 

If it goes ahead, it will the first hanging since 2019 in Singapore, which defends its use of capital punishment as an effective deterrent against crime despite mounting calls for its abolition.

Supporters say Nagaenthran has an IQ of 69, a level recognised as an intellectual disability, and was struggling with an alcohol problem at the time of 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 offence. 

© Agence France-Presse

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