Singapore court rejects Malaysian’s death row appeal

Dismissing bid for reprieve, Court of Appeal accuses Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s lawyers of ‘abuse’ of court processes.

Activists hold posters against the execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam
The case of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam has attracted attention in Malaysia and around the world [File: Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

Singapore’s appeals court has rejected a last-minute bid by Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s lawyers who argued the Malaysian should not be hanged because of his learning disabilities.

Dharmalingam was convicted of drug trafficking in 2010 after he was found with about 42.7 grammes (1.5 oz) of heroin and was due to be hanged in November.

His lawyers were granted a last-minute appeal, and argued that the 33-year-old should not be executed because his IQ of 69 meant he had trouble making informed decisions. They called for an independent psychiatric evaluation of their client.

Earlier hearings were postponed after Nagaenthran was diagnosed with COVID-19 and his lawyer put on medical leave, but on Tuesday the court dismissed the case saying it was “utterly without merit”.

They rejected affidavits from Nagaenthran’s brother and lawyer describing his disorientation and confusion, saying the two were not qualified to assess an individual’s mental state and were “interested parties”.  A prison official’s assessment of Nagaenthran’s mental health was found to be admissible, however, with the court saying the officer would not want the Malaysian executed.

Transformative Justice Collective, a group working for the reform of Singapore’s criminal justice system, said it was “profoundly disappointed with the decision”.

The court also accused the defence lawyers of a “blatant and egregious abuse of the court processes”, adding that it was “improper to engage in or encourage last ditch attempts” to delay or stop an execution. The judge granted the prosecution leave to seek costs from Naganenthran’s defence lawyers.

“As long as the law validly provides for the imposition of capital punishment in the specified circumstances, it is improper for counsel to abuse the process of the court and thereby bring the administration of criminal justice into disrepute by filing one hopeless application after another and drip-feeding the supposed evidence,” the appeal court said in its judgement.

Nagaenthran’s case has attracted international attention with the Malaysian government, United Nations experts, the European Union, and civil society groups questioning his sentence. Although the city-state has amended sentencing guidelines to allow judges to impose a life sentence in limited cases as an alternative to the mandatory death penalty, Singapore’s drug laws remain among the harshest in the world.

The UN experts expressed concern over Nagaenthran’s questioning after his arrest, noting he did not have access to “procedural accommodations for his disability during his interrogation”. They also highlighted that the death penalty should not be carried out on those with serious psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

Activists said that with Nagaenthran’s appeal dismissed, he could be executed within seven days. Previous appeals, an attempt to change the death sentence to life imprisonment and a call for clemency have all been exhausted.

Meanwhile, Singapore is due to hang 68-year-old drug user Abdul Kahar Othman on March 30.

He was sentenced to death in 2015 after being found guilty of two counts of drug trafficking involving a total of 66.77g (2.36 oz) of heroin.

Abdul Kahar’s family have said he began using drugs after being jailed as an 18-year-old and has spent most of his life behind bars as a result of his addiction.

Source: Al Jazeera