A Singapore court Tuesday postponed the imminent execution of a Malaysian man whom campaigners say is mentally disabled after he tested positive for Covid-19, meaning a last-ditch appeal could not proceed.
Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for trafficking a small amount of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws. He was sentenced to death the following year.
He was scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday after losing a series of appeals, despite mounting international outrage and supporters’ claims his intellectual disability means he is incapable of making rational decisions.
The execution was put on hold after a last-resort appeal was lodged, with the Court of Appeal due to hear the challenge Tuesday.
But Judge Andrew Phang Boon Leong announced Nagaenthran had contracted Covid-19, meaning the appeal could not proceed and the execution was stayed.
He cited “logic, common sense and humanity” in deciding to delay the hanging.
Nagaenthran’s lawyer, M. Ravi, told reporters he was “pleasantly surprised that this man, because of Covid, cannot be executed”.
He had been “saved by none other than the divine force,” he added.
There was no immediate indication of when the appeal might now go ahead.
– ‘Illegal, ineffective’ –
Ahead of the court proceedings, campaigners had warned the appeal might be hastily dismissed, paving the way for the execution to take place Wednesday as originally scheduled.
A group of United Nations human rights experts on Monday added their voice to growing concerns surrounding the case, saying that people with intellectual disabilities should not be executed.
“Resorting to this type of punishment to prevent drug trafficking is not only illegal under international law, it is also ineffective,” they said.
The European Union has called for his sentence to be commuted and Malaysia’s prime minister has written to his Singaporean counterpart urging a delay in the execution.
An online petition calling for Nagaenthran’s death sentence to be commuted has garnered almost 70,000 signatures.
If the execution does eventually go ahead, it will be the first since 2019 in Singapore, which defends its use of capital punishment as an effective deterrent against crime.
Nagaenthran was arrested at the age of 21 after a bundle of heroin weighing around 43 grams — equivalent to about three tablespoons — was found strapped to his thigh as he sought to enter Singapore.
Supporters say he has an IQ of 69 — a level recognised as a disability — was struggling with an alcohol problem, and was coerced into committing the crime.
But Singapore’s home affairs ministry has defended the decision to press ahead with the hanging, saying that legal rulings had found he “knew what he was doing” at the time of the offence.