Statement on the Imminent Execution of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam

Transformative Justice Collective unequivocally condemns the sentencing and imminent execution of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

Last week, the family of Nagaenthran received a letter from SPS informing them that he would be hanged on 10 November 2021 for importing 42.72g of diamorphine (heroin). Now 33, he has spent over a decade on death row.

This sentence was issued under the Misuse of Drugs Act – under Section 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, anyone found in possession of a certain amount of drugs (in this case, 2g or more of heroin) is presumed to have those drugs for the purpose of trafficking, unless they can prove otherwise. The punishment for anyone trafficking 15g or more of heroin is the mandatory death penalty.

While TJC condemns all uses of the death penalty, the sentencing of Nagaenthran is especially inhumane once we take into account his mental health and capabilities. Nagaenthran was found to have an IQ of 69 – a score of 100 is generally accepted as average, while a score of less than 70 such as Nagaenthran’s indicates developmental or learning disability.

Dr. Ung Eng Khean, a psychiatrist in private practice at Adam Road Medical Centre, testified to say that Nagaenthran suffered from “an abnormality of mind at the time of his arrest, namely: Severe Alcohol Use Disorder, Severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Combined Type and Borderline Intellectual Functioning/Mild Intellectual Disability”.

This evidence was rejected by the judge, as was the notion that Nagaenthran’s borderline intellectual functioning and impairments were sufficient to conclude that he suffered from abnormality of the mind for the purposes of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The evidence that was accepted by the court, however, was that Nagaenthran has mild ADHD of the inattentive type, and suffered from impaired executive functioning for skills such as verbal fluency, set-shifting, abstract reasoning, strategy formation, and problem solving.

While accepting the fact the individual in question presented signs of developmental disabilities, the judge also rejected Nagaenthran’s testimony of being threatened into delivering a bundle for “King” without knowing its contents. The prosecution also did not issue him a Certificate of Substantive Assistance, which, taken together with a finding that he had merely been a courier, would have given Nagaenthran a chance to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment and caning instead of death.

TJC here refers to Singapore’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which Singapore ratified in 2013. Singapore has the obligation under the CRPD to respect and protect the right to life, and right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, of persons with disabilities, like Nagaenthran. 

Human rights law is clear that the death penalty should not be applied to drug offences. It is also clear that implementing the death penalty on individuals suffering from intellectual disabilities is prohibited. This is because it may amount to an arbitrary execution in violation of the right to life, and would also constitute a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. As the CRPD Committee has previously affirmed, States must refrain from imposing the death penalty on persons with intellectual or psychosocial disability because of the disproportionate and discriminatory denial of fair trial guarantees and procedural accommodations to them. Thus, Singapore’s sentencing of an intellectually impaired individual such as Nagaenthran to death blatantly contravenes its international human rights obligations. 

The sentencing of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam to death highlights not only the cruel and inhumane structure of the Singapore legal system, and a blatant disregard for previously agreed upon international treaties, but the desperate need for the abolition of capital punishment. 

TJC urgently calls for the right for Nagaenthran to be properly and appropriately assessed with regard to his mental health and intellectual ability, for the issued death sentence to be withdrawn, and to respect and protect his right to life and right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, by means of rehabilitation and mental healthcare. To prevent such instances in the future, we urge the government to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to eventual abolition.

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