A plea for clemency from the sister of a death row prisoner

Dear Madam Halimah Yacob,

Re: Clemency for Nazeri bin Lajim

My name is Nazira. I am writing to plead for clemency for my brother, Nazeri bin Lajim, who has been given the death penalty in Singapore for a drug charge.

A difficult childhood, and early addiction to drugs

My brother and I grew up poor. Our father passed away when my brother was only 18 years old, and with that, we lost the sole breadwinner in our family. My mother is an uneducated washerwoman who had 10 children to feed and raise. My brother only had primary school education, and became heavily addicted to drugs at the tender age of 14. For all his life, my brother was in and out of prison. He was also estranged from our family. The rest of us siblings managed to pull ourselves out of poverty through a lot of struggle. But being so heavily addicted to drugs made it much harder for my brother. He was also unable to access any healthcare for his addiction issues. Through all his years in the prison system, he didn’t receive the help he needed.

Who lives and who dies?

The court judgment in my brother’s case was so long, I found it overwhelming. I am unable to accept the outcome. The person who sold my brother two bundles received a life sentence and 15 strokes of the cane, while my brother was given the death penalty, because the former, a Chinese man, was given a Certificate of Cooperation by the and my brother wasn’t. As a family member, these distinctions are so difficult to make sense of. Do their lives and deaths come down to these technicalities? The person who sold drugs to my brother happened to have information that was helpful to the CNB (Central Narcotic Bureau), but my brother didn’t. For this, should he die? Both of them have families, people who love them. Both of them are alive right now, but sometime in the near future, my brother is due to be hanged to death. Madam President, do you believe this to be justice?

The death penalty is a race issue, and a poverty issue

I am also very troubled that the majority of people on death row in Singapore are Malays. Why have so many Malays been sent to the gallows? Why are Malays so affected by drugs compared to other ethnic groups? I have previously written an email to you, Madam President, about my concerns on this matter.

My brother was part of an appeal by 17 Malay prisoners who wanted the courts to look into why the death penalty disproportionately affects Malays, but this was rejected. This was heart-breaking for me. It shatters me to see so many Malays suffering on death row. Isn’t this, too, a form of racism? They have all had difficult lives, and tried to survive in the ways they could. What they need is help, not such cruel punishment.

Please spare my brother’s life

Few of us, in our lifetimes, have the power to save someone’s life. You have this power, Madam President. You are our first female President, and our first Malay President since Yusof Ishak. You, more than any other President, perhaps, understands marginalisation. There are more effective, more compassionate ways to respond to harmful drug use and sale that do not make scapegoats out of vulnerable people. The last clemency granted in Singapore to a death row inmate was in April 1998, by President Ong Teng Cheong. You have a chance to make history, Madam Halimah. Please use the power you have to spare my brother’s life and my family the immense agony we have suffered for years. Please stop his execution by granting him a presidential pardon.

With hope and sincerity,

In response to her plea for clemency, Nazira received a cold, dismissive letter from the President’s private secretary with only two lines: “Please be informed (…) that the position remains unchanged.”

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