Pardon the death sentence of an intellectually disabled man

Pardon the death sentence of an intellectually disabled man

28 October 2021
Petition to
Mdm Halimah Yacob (President of Singapore)
Signatures: 107,521Next Goal: 150,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Olivia Seow

#SaveNagaenthran - Petition for President Halimah Yacob to pardon an intellectually disabled man, who has been sentenced to death for a non-violent drug offence.

Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with borderline intellectual functioning, was arrested for importing 42.72g of diamorphine (heroin) at the age of 21. The following year, he was convicted and sentenced to death. During his forensic psychiatric evaluation, Nagaenthran was assessed to have an IQ of 69 - a level internationally recognised as an intellectual disability, impaired executive functioning, and ADHD. Having been imprisoned for 12 years in isolation, Nagaenthran's mental health has severely deteriorated: He has become disoriented and incoherent, showing potential signs of psychosis. Nagaenthran faces imminent execution on 10 November 2021. (UPDATE: On 9 November, Nagaenthran tested positive for COVID-19. As such, he has been granted a stay of the judicial execution until all pending proceedings are concluded.)

In court, Nagaenthran testified that he had been coerced by a man who assaulted him and threatened to murder his girlfriend. Dr Ung Eng Khean, a psychiatrist in private practice, submitted that Nagaenthran was suffering from "an abnormality of mind at the time of his arrest". According to the Singapore law, this should have been sufficient grounds for him to be acquitted or released from charges. However, the defence was dismissed despite psychiatric evidence highlighting Nagaenthran’s inability to make rational decisions, assess risk and consequences, as well as control his impulses. These findings were corroborated in a 2017 report, where Dr Kenneth Koh of the Institute of Mental Health concluded that “[the  appellant’s]  borderline intelligence and concurrent cognitive deficits may have contributed toward his misdirected loyalty and poor assessment of the risks in agreeing to carry out the offence”.

The execution of a mentally ill person is prohibited under international human rights law, as well as under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). As a signatory of the UNCRPD, the Singapore government runs the risk of violating its obligation towards “ensuring that persons with disabilities are treated equally with dignity and respect”.

According to the CRPD Committee, the duty to refrain from imposing the death penalty on persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities is grounded on the disproportionate and discriminatory denial of fair trial guarantees and procedural accommodations to them. This is demonstrated in Nagaenthran's case, where there was a lack of procedural accommodation accorded to him as required by the International Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities. Thus, from the time of his arrest to his sentencing, Nagaenthran was denied true due process, even by Singapore’s own current standards under the Appropriate Adult Scheme.

In addition, marginalisation presents vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited by drug syndicates, especially in times of financial desperation. Hence, the punishment for drug offences is often class-biased, and disproportionately penalises marginalised groups and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, with minority groups accounting for 75% of the inmates on currently death row. This is also evidenced the case of Nagaenthran, who comes from an impoverished family with limited access to social support or services. In order to pay for his father's heart operation, Nagaenthran tried to borrow RM500 from a man named "K", who then exploited and coerced him into smuggling drugs. Therefore, rather than resorting to punitive measures, the Singapore government should focus on resolving the underlying causes of poverty and marginalisation to effectively eradicate drug trafficking and drug usage.

Moreover, no credible evidence exists to show that the death penalty works more effectively than imprisonment in deterring crime, and any execution for drug offences contravenes international law and standards. Decades of research reveal that punitive drug policies are not effective in reducing drug use or drug-related harms, and no positive correlation has been found between the imposition of capital punishment and drug use or positive public health outcomes. Studies in the US have also evinced that capital punishment cases are far more expensive than life imprisonment due to the legal costs incurred. Furthermore, Singapore is an anomaly, as majority of the world's safest and most developed countries have abolished capital punishment. Punitive policies also foster stigma, discrimination and marginalisation, which in turn hinder access to social services and prevent people from seeking help.

Capital punishment is often defended on the grounds that the government has a moral obligation to protect the safety and welfare of Singaporeans. However, Nagaenthran's death sentence indicates that the Singapore judicial system is failing to protect the safety and welfare of those with disabilities. Specifically, it demonstrates the systemic failure of Singapore’s criminal justice system to recognise the impact of intellectual disabilities on a person’s culpability and capacity to commit a criminal offence. 

Given that Nagaenthran is intellectually disabled, committed a non-violent crime, and was allegedly coerced by assaults and threats, we sincerely appeal for President Halimah Yacob to uphold Singapore's commitment to the UNCRPD by pardoning Nagaenthran's death sentence.

Statements condemning the impending execution of Nagaenthran: 


International media coverage:


Things you can do to help #SaveNagaenthran:

  1. Share news about the campaign. 
  2. Write to President Halimah Yacob and your MPs.
  3. Urge your organisations and groups to release statements.
  4. Alert human rights organisations to this injustice. 
  5. Donate to Transformative Justice Collective here.
  6. Send words of support to Naga's family in the comment section at this link

Sign the following letters of appeal to the president, if you are:



The requests for donations you receive after signing are enabled by the people from, who are asking for advertisement money to promote this petition. Those donations DO NOT go towards funding Transformative Justice Collective (TJC) or Nagaenthran’s family.

To donate to TJC, please click this link. There, you can select the option for your funds to go directly towards supporting families like Nagaenthran’s. 


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Signatures: 107,521Next Goal: 150,000
Support now