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Mentally disabled man set for Singapore execution as appeal fails


Relatives of a mentally disabled Malaysian man set to be hanged in Singapore sobbed in court Tuesday and held his hand, as a desperate final bid to halt his execution failed.

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, and handed a death sentence the following year.

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The plan to hang him sparked widespread criticism due to concerns about his intellectual disabilities, with the European Union and British billionaire Richard Branson among those condemning it.

After exhausting all usual avenues of appeal, authorities scheduled his execution for Wednesday. 

But his mother mounted a last-ditch effort Tuesday to persuade a court to halt his hanging. 

“I want my son back alive, that’s why I am here. We are in dire straits,” Panchalai Supermaniam told the Court of Appeal through an interpreter. 

She argued there was a conflict of interest, as Singapore’s chief justice, who presided over and dismissed her son’s previous appeal, had been the country’s attorney-general when he was convicted. 

But Judge Andrew Phang, heading a three-judge panel, swiftly dismissed the challenge, describing it as “frivolous” and a “calibrated attempt” to delay the hanging.

Several of Nagaenthran’s relatives were present in court for the hearing. They wept and grasped his hand through a tiny opening in a glass screen at the dock where he was sitting. 

Nagaenthran, 34, looked composed and sought to console them, before requesting time alone with his family.

He was originally scheduled to be executed in November but the hanging was delayed as he sought to appeal on the grounds that executing someone with mental disabilities contravenes international law.

He was arrested aged 21 as he tried to enter Singapore with a bundle of heroin weighing about 43 grams (one and a half ounces) — equivalent to about three tablespoons.

Supporters say he has an IQ of 69, a level recognised as a disability, and was coerced into committing the crime.

But authorities have defended his conviction, saying that legal rulings found he knew what he was doing at the time of the offence.

In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Branson urged Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob to grant Nagaenthran clemency, calling the death penalty “inhumane”.

Singapore resumed executions last month after a hiatus of more than two years, and activists fear authorities are set to embark on a wave of hangings.

Martin Abbugao

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