Singapore: Responding to global calls to spare an Indian-origin Malaysian from the gallows next week, the Singapore government has said that the death row convict knew what he was doing when he committed the crime of heroin trafficking.
Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, 33, is to be hanged at Changi Prison for drug trafficking on Wednesday.
He was 21 when arrested for trafficking drugs at Woodlands checkpoint on a causeway link between Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia with a bundle of drugs strapped to his thigh.
Nagaenthran was convicted and sentenced to death in November 2010 for importing 42.72 grams of heroin in 2009.
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The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death sentence where the amount of heroin imported is more than 15 grams.
The case came under the spotlight late last month when the Singapore Prison Service wrote a letter to Nagaenthran’s mother on October 26, informing her that the death sentence on her son would be carried out on November 10, according to the Straits Times report.
The family was expected to travel from Ipoh, a major city in northern Peninsular Malaysia, to be with Nagaenthran at Singapore’s Changi Prison. The prison’s letter said the family would be allowed extended daily visits till November 10. The letter was circulated on social media.
The issue of whether Nagaenthran’s mental responsibility for his actions was substantially impaired at the time he had committed the offence was considered by the High Court, The Straits Times reported, citing a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) statement.
The ministry made these points in the statement responding to further media queries on the case, which has gained international attention as human rights groups and others call for a halt to Nagaenthran’s upcoming execution, citing intellectual disability, according to the Singapore daily report.
The statement added that the High Court had assessed the evidence of psychiatrists that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.
This included the evidence of a psychiatrist called by the defence, “who agreed in court that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled”.
Citing findings from the High Court and the Court of Appeal in its statement, the MHA said, “The High Court considered the facts, expert evidence from four different psychiatric/psychological experts, and further submissions by the Prosecution and the Defence. The High Court held that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing, and upheld the sentence of death.” He appealed to the Court of Appeal against his conviction and sentence, and his appeal was dismissed in September 2011.
In 2015, he filed a resentencing application to set aside the sentence of death imposed on him, and to substitute it with life imprisonment.
The High Court dismissed this application in 2017, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in 2019. His petition to the President Halimah Yacob for clemency was also unsuccessful.
A petition calling for him to be pardoned from the death sentence, started on October 29, has since garnered over 56,134 signatures as of Saturday morning. It argued that Nagaenthran should be spared from death because he had committed the offence under duress, and had been assessed to have a low IQ of 69.
At 75,000 signatures, the petition becomes one of the top 1 per cent on Change.org in the UK.
The execution of a mentally ill person is prohibited under international human rights law, as well as under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), according to Change.org.
Furthermore, any execution for drug offences contravenes international law and standards. Singapore is a signatory of the UNCRPD.
On Friday, the MHA said the High Court had found that Nagaenthran was able to plan and organise on simpler terms, and “was relatively adept at living independently”.
The court also noted that his actions relating to the offence revealed that he was “capable of manipulation and evasion”.
For example, when he was stopped at the checkpoint, he tried to forestall a search by telling the Central Narcotics Bureau officers that he was “working in security”, and thus appealing to the social perception of the trustworthiness of security officers.
He was also noted to be “continuously altering his account of his education qualifications, ostensibly to reflect lower educational qualifications each time he was interviewed”, said the MHA.
Further, the Court of Appeal noted that Nagaenthran knew it was unlawful for him to be transporting drugs, and attempted to conceal the bundle by strapping it to his left thigh and then wearing a large pair of trousers over it.
These 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 considered the risks, balanced it against the reward he had hoped he would get, and decided to take the risk,” the Singapore daily quoted the MHA as saying.
The ministry added that Nagaenthran was accorded full due process under the law, and was represented by legal counsel throughout the process.
The MHA said the penalties, including the death penalty, for the illegal trafficking, importation or exportation of drugs are made clear at Singapore’s borders, to warn traffickers and syndicates of the harsh penalties they potentially face.
It added, “The approach Singapore has taken has resulted in it being one of the safest places in the world to live, relatively free of serious crime, and without the scourge of drug related crimes and homicides, which take thousands of lives, and destroys countless young people and families, in some countries.” A group of Malaysian lawyers, activists and human rights groups also rallied outside Parliament in Kuala Lumpur this week, demanding government intervention. They said in their petition that it was “incredibly excessive” to hang Nagaenthran given his disability and that he was being punished for a non-violent crime.
Nagaenthran’s lawyer in Singapore M Ravi said Nagaenthran “could possibly have a mental age below 18” and that the disability doesn’t allow him to understand or appreciate deterrence.
“Therefore, we contend that the execution is irrational and a capricious act of the state,” he wrote on Facebook.