SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore’s High Court on Monday halted the imminent execution of a Malaysian man believed to be mentally disabled, amid pleas from the international community and rights groups.
Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, 33, was due to be executed by hanging on Wednesday for trying to smuggle a small amount of heroin into the country — nearly 43 grams (1.5 ounces).
The court granted a stay of the execution order after the defense lawyer, M. Ravi, argued that capital punishment for a mentally disabled person was a violation of Singapore’s constitution.
Narcotics officers found a small bundle of heroin strapped to Nagaenthran’s left thigh at a checkpoint more than a decade ago. He was sentenced to death in November 2010 under the country’s strict drug laws. A previous appeal to reduce the penalty to life in prison failed and a final push for presidential clemency was rejected last year.
Death penalty opponents say Nagaenthran’s IQ was disclosed during a trial at the High Court as 69, a level that is internationally recognized as an intellectual disability.
But the court had ruled that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing and upheld the sentence of death.
Defense lawyer Ravi said in a Facebook post that the stay on his client’s execution was granted “pending the hearing of the appeal to the Court of Appeal,” which is Singapore’s top court.
Activist Kirsten Han, who helped Nagaenthran’s mother, two younger siblings, and cousin arrange travel into the city-state, told the Associated Press that an appeal date and time hadn’t been set yet.
Han said the family members have been allowed daily prison visits since they arrived in Singapore last week.
Nagaenthran is the second of four siblings in the family, which resides in Malaysia’s northern Ipoh town.
“The main thing that I’ve heard from Nagen’s younger brother is that Nagen has been disoriented, he doesn’t quite make eye contact, and goes between periods of lucidity and confusion,” Han said.
“His brother even doubts that he fully grasps that his execution date is so close,” she added.
Legal and human rights groups in Malaysia and beyond have called for Nagaenthran’s execution to be halted. Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also reportedly joined the chorus by asking for leniency “purely on humanitarian grounds” in a letter addressed to Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong, dated Dec. 3.
On Sunday, the European Union Delegation to Singapore, along with the diplomatic missions of Norway and Switzerland in the country, called for the execution to be halted.
“Today, more than two thirds of the countries of the world have become abolitionist in law or practice, which confirms a global trend in favour of the abolition of the death penalty,” they said in a statement.
A petition calling for a presidential pardon for Nagaenthran has drawn over 64,000 signatures. Family members and friends of 13 current and former death row prisoners have also written a joint letter to Singapore’s president on Monday and called for the death penalty to be abolished.
British business magnate Richard Branson has similarly called on the president to spare Nagaenthran’s life.
“It’s almost always the most vulnerable people, people struggling to make ends meet, immigrants in need of money, that are roped into criminal schemes, unable to defend themselves when caught and facing the court,” Branson said in a statement on Monday.
“It’s impossible not to see the extent to which inequality, poverty and the death penalty are linked,” he added.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said Nagaenthran has been accorded the full due process under the law, and was represented by legal counsel throughout the process.
“The High Court had assessed the evidence of the psychiatrists, including the evidence of a psychiatrist called by the defense, on behalf of Nagaenthran, who agreed in Court, that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled,” the ministry said in response to media queries on Friday.
“Nagaenthran considered the risks, balanced it against the reward he had hoped he would get, and decided to take the risk,” it added.
He would have been the first person to be executed in Singapore since 2019.