Malaysian Nagaenthran executed on drugs charges in Singapore

Execution comes the morning after mother’s last-ditch effort to save her intellectually disabled son was dismissed.

This undated photo provided by Sarmila Dharmalingam, shows her younger brother Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam holding his nephew in Ipoh, Malaysia.
This undated photo provided by Sarmila Dharmalingam, shows her younger brother Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam holding his nephew in Ipoh, Malaysia [File: Sarmila Dharmalingam via AP]

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian with learning disabilities who was convicted of drug trafficking in 2010 and whose case attracted global attention, has been executed in Singapore’s Changi prison.

Nagaenthran, who was arrested after police found a bundle of 42.7 grammes (1.5 oz) of heroin strapped to his thigh, was hanged just before dawn on Wednesday, his family said.

Navin Kumar, Nagaenthran’s brother, told the Reuters news agency that the 33-year-old’s body would be sent back to Malaysia where a funeral would be held in the northern town of Ipoh.

The Malaysian’s execution came after the Court of Appeal dismissed an effort by Nagaenthran’s mother to halt her son’s execution. The judges said her last-minute plea was “vexatious”.

Last month, the court called legal efforts to save Naga’s life a “blatant and egregious abuse” of the legal process, and that it was “improper to engage in or encourage last ditch attempts” to delay or stop an execution.

Nagaemthran's mother Panchalai Supermaniam, in a pink face mask, weeps as she thanks supporters after her failed last ditch court action on Tuesday
Panchalai Supermaniam, Nagaenthran’s mother, made a last-ditch effort to save her son, but her case as immediately dismissed. She represented herself because she could not find a lawyer to take on the case [Edgar Su/Reuters]

Nagaenthran’s case has drawn global attention to Singapore’s continued use of the death penalty, particularly in drug trafficking cases, and sparked renewed debate in the city-state itself.

Nagaenthran’s family said he had an IQ of 69, but the city state’s courts found he knew what he was doing at the time of the offence and that no additional evidence had been presented to show any decline in his intellectual abilities.

M Ravi, a lawyer who previously represented Nagaenthran, expressed his grief over Wednesday’s execution on Twitter, saying: “Om Shanti, may your soul rest in peace.”

He added, “You may break us, but not defeat us. Our fight against the death penalty continues.”


On Monday, a few hundred people turned out to show their opposition to the death penalty, gathering in Hong Lim Park, a small patch of ground in the city centre that is the only place where the Singapore government allows public assemblies. There were also small protests outside the Singapore High Commission in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian government, United Nations experts, the European Union, civil society groups and celebrities including British entrepreneur Richard Branson, had also called for Nagaenthran’s life to be spared.

In a statement issued after Wednesday’s execution, Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the prime minister and foreign minister this week had again sent a letter to their Singaporean counterparts asking them to reconsider Nagaenthran’s sentence, and suggesting they make use of the prisoner transfer agreement between the two countries.

“The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences is incompatible with international human rights law,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote in a statement calling on Singapore to halt Naga’s execution. “Countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the “most serious crimes”, which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing.”

More executions planned

Singapore also plans to hang Datchinamurthy Kataiah, another Malaysian convicted of drug offences, on Friday in what the OHCHR said appeared to be “an alarming acceleration in execution notices in the country”. Abdul Kahar Othman, a Singaporean also convicted of drug-related offences, was hanged on March 30, the first person to be executed by the country in two years.

At least three other men found guilty of drug-related offences, Roslan bin Bakar, Rosman bin Abdullah and Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, are at risk of imminent execution, according to the UN.

Nagaenthran had been due to hang in November, but his execution was postponed pending court appeals, which were then delayed after he contracted COVID-19.

An appeal for clemency to Singapore’s president was also rejected, and at the end of Tuesday’s hearing Nagaenthran asked that he be allowed to hold the hands of his mother and other relatives one last time, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. As they reached through a gap in the glass screen to hold each other, the family sobbed. The paper said they were later allowed to spend time with him in the holding cells beneath the court, although without physical contact.

In a statement, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director Erwin van der Borght described the execution of Nagaenthran as a “disgraceful act by the Singapore government” and that it was “pursuing a cruel path that is severely at odds with the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty.”

The city-state has amended sentencing guidelines to allow judges to send people to prison for life rather than impose the mandatory death sentence in some trafficking cases, providing the defendant meets certain conditions. Singapore maintains some of the harshest drug laws in the world and claims the death penalty acts as a deterrent.

More than 50 people are reported to be on death row in Singapore, the UN said. Singapore does not usually comment on capital cases.

Singaporeans hold a vigil against the death penalty in Hong Lim Park
Singaporeans take part in a vigil against the death penalty ahead of the planned executions of Malaysians Nagaenthran Dharmalingam and Datchinamurthy Kataiah at Hong Lim Park on Monday [Edgar Su/Reuters]

“This deterrent has been repeatedly discredited, and there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than life imprisonment,” Amnesty’s van der Borght said. “Punitive drug policies mandating harsh punishments have been shown to harm, rather than protect people from problems caused by drugs.”

Malaysia and Indonesia also impose death sentences for drugs crimes, but Malaysia has been reviewing its use in such cases and currently has a moratorium on executions.

Source: Al Jazeera