A mentally disabled Malaysian man’s last-ditch appeal against a death sentence was dismissed by Singapore’s top court on Tuesday, leaving his family “devastated” and “shocked” by the decision.
Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for smuggling a small amount of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the strictest drug laws in the world and was sentenced to death the following year.
He was supposed to be hanged in November, but the plan drew widespread condemnation due to concerns about his mental disabilities, with the European Union and British billionaire Richard Branson among those who spoke out against it.
His lawyers argued that executing someone with mental disabilities is against international law, and the 34-year-old filed a final appeal.
The challenge was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, with Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon stating that it had “no factual or legal basis.”
Nagaenthran had been given “due process” and his defence had presented “nothing to suggest that he has a case,” he said, accusing the Malaysian’s lawyers of abusing the court system to postpone the execution.
Nagaenthran, dressed in a purple prison uniform with a white face mask, maintained a solemn demeanour throughout the proceedings.
M Ravi, a human rights lawyer who is assisting in the case, said no further appeals would be filed and that the execution could happen within days. Sarmila Dharmalingam, speaking to AFP from Malaysia, sobbed as she said the family was “devastated” by the court decision.
She went on to say that his long-running case has been “a horrifying ordeal for us.”
The appeal was supposed to happen months ago, but Nagaenthran contracted Covid-19, so it was postponed.
Although no executions have taken place in Singapore since 2019, fears are growing that the city-state is planning to hang several drug traffickers in the coming months.
According to Amnesty International, Singapore is one of more than 30 countries in the world where drug-related crimes are still punishable by death. Nagaenthran was apprehended at the age of 21 with a bundle of heroin weighing 43 grammes (one and a half ounces) — roughly three tablespoons — strapped to his thigh as he attempted to enter Singapore.
Authorities, on the other hand, have defended his conviction, claiming that legal rulings found he “knew what he was doing” at the time of the crime.
Singapore maintains the death penalty for a number of crimes, including drug trafficking and murder, and claims that this has contributed to the city-status state as one of Asia’s safest places.