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Singapore hanging would be ‘tantamount to executing a child’

By Peter Murphy - posted Thursday, 18 November 2021

An intellectually impaired Malaysian man due to be executed in Singapore on Wednesday gained a last-minute reprieve as a result of contracting COVID-19.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam's final legal bid to prevent being hanged was to be heard by Singapore's High Court on Tuesday but has been postponed - and the execution further stayed - because of his illness. It is unclear when the final appeal hearing will occur.

Naga has been on death row for 10 years. He was sentenced to death in 2011 after being convicted of smuggling 42.72 grams of diamorphine into Singapore.


Naga was 21 when he was arrested and charged in 2009. He has been assessed as having an IQ of 69. Nagar's defence team have argued that his intellectual impairment and other psychiatric conditions saw him coerced and used by drug traffickers.

Singapore's attorney-general has rebuffed those claims as have Singapore's courts in earlier appeals.

In a statement quoted in The Guardian, the Singapore attorney-general's office said: "The High Court stated that it is not open to Dharmalingam to challenge the court's findings pertaining to his mental responsibility, whether directly or indirectly, in yet another attempt to revisit and unravel the finality of those findings."

The proposed execution has created an international chorus of condemnation for the proposed execution and excited widespread calls for Singapore President Halimah Yacob to exercise her powers under Singapore's constitution to prevent Naga's execution.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published an urgent appeal by five expert rapporteurs calling on Singapore to definitively halt Naga's execution. Its statement highlights "that death sentences must not be carried out on persons with serious psychosocial and intellectual disabilities."

The call for clemency is echoed by numerous international bodies, including the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); Lawasia; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International, the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association.


Former High Court justice Michael Kirby, co-chair of the IBAHRI, calls the pending execution "an affront to human dignity" and a "violation of Singapore's obligation to ensure protection for persons with disabilities". He goes on to express surprise that a "modern and progressive country" like Singapore is "so out of step with global human rights norms".

In what can be seen as a significant intervention, Singapore's daily newspaper, The Straits Times, has reported this week that Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has written formally to his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong calling for leniency for Naga.

Malaysia, like many of its South-East Asian neighbours, has long had draconian drug laws with severe penalties, including the death penalty. However, since 2018, it has had a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty and has been seen as moving toward joining more than 100 other nations that have abolished the death penalty.

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This article was first published on Pearls and Irritations.

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About the Author

Peter Murphy has had a distinguished career as a lawyer, advocate and judge. Having retired after 10 years as a justice of the Family Court, Peter has returned to his early love, journalism.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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