Nagaenthran Dharmalingam executed in Singapore, final photo released
His lawyers had in previous appeals said how little Nagaenthran comprehended what was ahead of him. “He has some vague idea that something is going to happen to him … but he thinks he is going to go to a beautiful garden and be happy there,” his Malaysian lawyer N Surendran said last November.
But as the condemned man addressed the court’s three judges from behind a glass screen in the dock, he appeared to know it was the end.
With his request granted, he placed his hands through a small gap in the glass and was able to touch those of his mother and other relatives for a final time. They were also allowed a two-hour farewell in the basement on the court complex in central Singapore, separated by another screen and without physical contact.
Having said their goodbyes, Nagaenthran’s mother and other relatives returned to Malaysia on Wednesday morning, his sister said. His brother Navin told Reuters the body would be sent back to Malaysia where a funeral would be held in the town of Ipoh.
Nagaenthran, a Malaysian of ethnic Indian origin, grew up in a family of four siblings – two sisters and a brother – in Malaysia’s Perak state, along with his mother, a cleaner, and a closely connected extended family. Later, he worked as a security guard in Singapore and Malaysia.
He spent 13 years behind bars in Singapore, most of them on death row, after being arrested as a 21-year-old when he was discovered trying to smuggle 42.72 grams of heroin into the island nation in 2009.
In recent months, as his legal team launched a final challenge of his sentence, his case attracted international attention, thrusting a spotlight on Singapore’s deployment of the death penalty. British billionaire Richard Branson and Malaysia Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob urged Singapore President Halimah Yacob to grant Nagaenthran clemency, with Branson telling The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in an interview last week that executing Nagaenthran would be “a dark stain on Singapore’s international reputation”.
But those pleas were dismissed and lawyers were unable to secure a reprieve as the courts ruled that Nagaenthran’s “mental responsibility for his offence was not substantially impaired” and that he “clearly understood the nature of his acts”. They also rejected his account that he was acting as a drug mule under duress from a friend who had assaulted him and threatened to kill his girlfriend.
Rights groups were quick to slam Singapore for proceeding with the sentence. Anti-death penalty group Reprieve said in a statement that Nagaenthran’s “name will go down in history as the victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice”.
“Hanging an intellectually disabled, mentally unwell man because he was coerced into carrying less than three tablespoons of diamorphine is unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international laws that Singapore has chosen to sign up to,” the statement said.
“Capital punishment in Singapore disproportionately targets drug mules rather than the drug lords that traffic or manipulate them. Most of its victims are, like Nagen, poor, vulnerable and from marginalised communities. This is a broken system.”
Amnesty International Asia-Pacific regional director Erwin van der Borght condemned the execution as “a disgraceful act by the Singapore government – ruthlessly carried out despite extensive protests in Singapore and Malaysia and an outcry across the world”.
The Singapore government describes the death penalty as “an important component” of its criminal justice system, arguing its use as punishment for serious crimes such as drug trafficking and murder helps maintain its status as one of the safest places in the world.
The city-state had not executed a prisoner for more than two years until March 30, when 68-year-old Singaporean Abdul Kahar bin Othman was hanged, also for drug importation. A third execution within a month is also due to take place on Friday with another Malaysian drug offender, Datchinamurthy Kataiah, scheduled to be executed.
Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.