Pardon the death sentence of an intellectually disabled man
Pardon the death sentence of an intellectually disabled man
#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:
- United Nations
- European Union
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- International Bar Association
- International Federation for Human Rights
- Harm Reduction International, alongside 27 organisations and networks
- American Psychological Association's Division of Social Justice
- Commonwealth Lawyers Association
- The Law Association for Asia and the Pacific
- Australian Lawyers Alliance
- ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
- Malaysian Bar
- Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network
- Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
- Transformative Justice Collective
- We Who Witness, alongside 56 organisations of persons with disabilities
- Think Centre Singapore
- Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture
- SG Climate Rally - Statement by Environmentalists
- Richard Branson: Stop the killing of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam
- Statement from drug users, ex-drug users and their family members in Singapore
- Statement from members of the Singapore arts industry
- Statement from social service and healthcare professionals
- Statement from members of the legal industry in Singapore
- Statement from the loved ones of people on death row
International media coverage:
- BBC: Family prays for miracle to halt execution of man with low IQ
- CNN: Campaigners make last effort to save man with intellectual disabilities from execution in Singapore
- The New York Times: Rights groups urge Singapore not to execute man with mental disability
- The Washington Post: Singapore is set to execute a mentally disabled man for trafficking 1.5 ounces of heroin
- The Wall Street Journal: Singapore execution stayed After positive Covid-19 test
- Reuters: Singapore grants 11th-hour stay of execution for Malaysian with COVID-19
- Associated Press News: Singapore urged not to hang disabled Malaysian in drug case
- Daily Mail: Mentally disabled man's execution for drug trafficking in Singapore is postponed – because he's caught Covid-19
- The Guardian: Outrage as Singapore prepares to execute man with learning disabilities over drugs charges
- ABC News: Singapore urged not to hang disabled Malaysian in drug case
- The Independent: Singapore halts execution of Malaysian drug offender with low IQ after he contracts Covid
- Boston Globe: Singapore delays appeal hearing on disabled man’s execution
- Al Jazeera: Nagaenthran case puts Singapore’s death penalty in spotlight
- SBS News: More countries are scrapping the death penalty, but Singapore isn't one of them
- The Times: Man with ‘very low’ IQ due to hang in Singapore for drug smuggling
- The Sydney Morning Herald: Last-ditch bid to spare mentally impaired man from hanging in Singapore
- Vice World News: Chilling letter details execution of 'intellectually disabled' Inmate
Things you can do to help #SaveNagaenthran:
- Share news about the campaign.
- Write to President Halimah Yacob and your MPs.
- Urge your organisations and groups to release statements.
- Alert human rights organisations to this injustice.
- Donate to Transformative Justice Collective here.
- 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:
- A lawyer, law student, or a member of the legal industry.
- A member of the arts community (e.g. visual artist, writer, arts student, musician).
- A social service professional, counsellor, healthcare worker, or a community worker.
- A drug user, ex-drug user, or a loved one of someone who used drugs.
- An environmentalist
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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.