UPDATE: Nagaenthran’s appeal is set for January 24, and if it’s dismissed, he could be executed very soon after.
Singapore was due to hang Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, on November 10th, after being on death row for over 10 years. However, the High Court ordered a stay of execution on Monday, pending the hearing of the Court of Appeal. Earlier that day, he tested positive for Covid-19, so his appeal hearing was postponed.
Earlier that morning, a letter – signed by loved ones of 13 different current and former death row prisoners – was hand-delivered to the Istana.
The 33-year-old Malaysian national was convicted and sentenced to death in November 2010 for smuggling 42.72g of heroin strapped to his thigh in 2009 while entering Singapore from Malaysia.
Rights groups and death penalty opponents are urging the execution be halted because the man is intellectually disabled, as his IQ was disclosed during the trial as 69 – a level that is internationally recognised as an intellectual disability. Psychiatrists also said that he was also found to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a drinking disorder.
The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch say that the execution of a disabled person violates international laws and won’t deter crime.
But according to the High Court and the Court of Appeal in its statement, MHA said: “The High Court considered the facts, expert evidence from four different psychiatric/psychological experts, and further submissions by the prosecution and the defense.” They found that Nagaenthran’s actions, along with his motive to commit the crime – paying off his debts – showed a “deliberate, purposeful and calculated decision”, and “the working of a criminal mind, weighing the risks and countervailing benefits associated with the criminal conduct in question”.
Nagaenthran’s multiple appeals to reduce the penalty to life in prison failed and a final push for a presidential clemency was rejected last year.
Death penalty for drugs
The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death sentence where the amount of heroin imported is more than 15g (specified in the Second Schedule of the same law), and Nagaenthran smuggled 42.72g of it. If one is found guilty, the only stipulated penalty is death, and the judge doesn’t have discretion in sentencing.
In 2012, the government amended the mandatory death penalty regime under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The courts will be able to sentence someone to life imprisonment with caning, instead of death, if they meet these circumstances:
- If the offender was only a drug courier (i.e. they have no other role except transporting drugs from one point to another), AND
- Was suffering from an “abnormality of the mind” that “substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts”, OR
- Has received a Certificate of Substantive Assistance from the prosecution, certifying that they had “substantively assisted” the authorities in disrupting drug trafficking activities
The timing of the execution
The official notification for his execution was sent to his family on October 26, in a letter widely shared on social media. This was just 2 days before Diwali. The letter detailed the quarantine procedures for the family to enter Singapore to see Nagaenthran, with extended daily visits facilitated. Daily family visits will be (about 10am–12pm, then 2pm–4pm) will take place behind a pane of glass; no contact is allowed.
Activists close to the case managed to raise the funds – the cost of flights, SHN hotel, travel insurance, pre-paying PCR tests, expenses for transport and food were estimated to be about S$7,000, or RM21,000 – for the family to fly to Singapore and serve out their quarantine order.
Apart from daily visits to the prison, Nagaenthran’s four family members currently in Singapore are not allowed to leave their hotel rooms as they have yet to complete the required quarantine period.
When Nagaenthran’s younger brother met him in prison last week, he found that Nagaenthran would stare at the ceiling, talk incoherently, and jump from one subject to another.
The case other drug traffickers
Back in 1996, a 22-year-old Malaysian man named Rozman bin Jusoh was also charged with trafficking – this time for over 1,000g of cannabis.
A clinical psychologist found that his IQ was a borderline 74, and that he “could easily be misled and could get into difficulty.” The trial judge also made his own observations of Rozman: “…my perception was that the first accused was a guileless simpleton without any gift for contrivance.”
The trial judge also found that the undercover officer and agent had “undertaken a substantially active role in persuading the first accused to sell them drugs.” Rozman was charged of possession instead, but the prosecution appealed the case and Rozman was convicted of drug trafficking. He was hanged on 12 April 1996.
Here are stats for Singapore’s executions:
Two more recent cases of death to Malaysian drug traffickers include the controversial death sentencing of 37-year-old Punithan Genasan for heroin trafficking, which was delivered via Zoom in 2020. Another Malaysian, 41-year-old Omar Yacob Bamadhaj, was sentenced to death in February this year for smuggling 1kg of cannabis across the border.