Singapore’s top court was Tuesday urged to show “mercy” as it heard the last-ditch appeal of a Malaysian man facing execution despite criticism from supporters who say he is mentally disabled.
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 then mandatory death sentence the following year.
He was finally scheduled to be hanged in November but the plan sparked criticism due to concerns he has intellectual disabilities, with the European Union and British billionaire Richard Branson among those condemning it.
The 34-year-old lodged a final appeal and, after several delays, Singapore’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday heard the challenge.
His lawyer Violet Netto argued that executing someone who is mentally disabled runs counter to international law.
She urged the judges to show “mercy” by allowing Nagaenthran to undergo an independent assessment, and asked for the defence to be given time to find psychiatrists to conduct the examination.
But prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong opposed the move and said the defence was seeking to delay proceedings, accusing them of “abusing the process of this court”.
Tuesday’s proceedings ended without a verdict being issued, and a ruling will be handed down at a later date, which is still to be decided.
Nagaenthran was in court for the hearing, which took place with social distancing measures in place to cut the risk of coronavirus infections, and with heavy security.
The appeal was supposed to take place months ago but was delayed after Nagaenthran contracted Covid-19.
Campaigners fear chances of success are slim. If Nagaenthran is hanged, it 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 coming months, with activists warning that authorities are gearing up to execute three other drug traffickers.
Singapore is among more than 30 countries worldwide where drug-related offences are still punishable by death, according to Amnesty International.
– ‘Spare him’ –
Activist Kokila Annamalai said she had spoken to Nagaenthran after the proceedings, and he was “making a plea… to give him another chance.
“He wants another chance mostly for the sake of his family, because he’s very concerned about the trauma to them if he is executed,” said the activist from the Transformative Justice Collective, which campaigns against the death penalty in Singapore.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Amnesty International also urged Singapore to spare Nagaenthran and “prevent a travesty of justice”.
“Executing someone whose mental disabilities may impede an effective defence runs counter to international law, and so does the use of this punishment for drug-related offences and its mandatory imposition,” the group said.
Nagaenthran was arrested at the age of 21 after a bundle of heroin weighing around 43 grams (one and a half ounces) — 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