Court dismisses final appeal in Singapore death row case

The Singapore Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge filed by Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s mother

Singapore Death Sentence
Singapore Death Sentence

The Singapore Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge filed by Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam’s mother as part of a last-minute attempt to halt the execution of his death sentence.

The hearing Tuesday took place just a day before Nagaenthran, 34, is due to be executed. He has been on death row for over a decade. The dismissal of the motion filed means the execution of Nagaenthran will proceed as scheduled Wednesday.

The motion, filed Monday by Nagaenthran and his mother Panchalai Supermaniam, argued that it was unconstitutional to proceed with his death sentence and that Nagaenthran may not have been given a fair trial because Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who presided over Nagaenthran’s previous failed appeals, had held status as Attorney-General at the time Nagaenthran was convicted in 2010.

Panchalai was unrepresented in court Tuesday, stating that she was not able to find a lawyer to represent her.

“We need a lawyer, I want my son back alive, that is why I made his application,” she said via an interpreter. “We are in dire straits now, we really want to speak to a lawyer who can advise us on how to … move forwards.”

When asked who helped Panchalai and Nagaenthran to draft the motion paper and affidavit for the application, she said that it was drafted by relatives in Singapore and friends of those relatives.

The prosecution argued that those who aided in filing the application should not be allowed to hide under a “veil of anonymity” and described it as an abuse of the court process.

The court said Tuesday that the case was “devoid of merit” and that no court in the world would allow the prolonging of such matters “ad infinitum.”

“There must come a time when the last word of the court is the last word,” said Justice Andrew Phang, one of the judges who presided over the hearing Tuesday.

Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009 for trafficking nearly 43 grams (1.5 ounces) of heroin into Singapore, and was sentenced to death in 2010 under Singapore's strict anti-drug laws.

He had previously failed in his appeals to the High Court in 2011, the Court of Appeal in 2019 and in his petition for clemency to the president of Singapore.

“Immediately dismissing this motion so they can rush Nagen to the gallows at dawn tomorrow lays bare the truth about what fair trial rights and access to justice looks like in death penalty cases in Singapore, despite the Government’s repeated claims to afford those facing the death penalty full due process,” said Maya Foa, director at Reprieve, a non-governmental organization.

Lawyers for Liberty founder N. Surendran said in a tweet that the appeal was dismissed under “appalling circumstances.”

“His mother’s pleas to be allowed to appoint a lawyer were ignored by the court,” he said on Twitter.“Verdict given without hearing from (Nagaenthran’s) side at all – utter and barbaric disregard for the rule of law. The Nazis did this, too.”

His lawyers and supporters say that Nagaenthran has an IQ of 69 and is intellectually disabled, and that the execution of a mentally ill person is prohibited under international human rights law.

Following the court’s dismissal of the legal challenge, Nagaenthran asked the court for permission to hold his family’s hands in the courtroom as a “final wish.”

He was allowed to do so, and was granted two hours to spend time with his family in the Supreme Court building.

His case has drawn international attention, with public figures such as billionaire and founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson and actor Stephen Fry publicly appealing for Singapore not to execute Nagaenthran.

On Monday, hundreds of people in Singapore held a candlelight vigil at a park to protest the looming execution.

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