Singapore (AFP) – A Singapore court on Tuesday postponed the imminent execution of a Malaysian man who activists say is mentally disabled after testing positive for Covid-19, meaning a last resort appeal failed take place.
Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for trafficking a small amount of heroin into the city-state, which has some of the strictest drug laws in the world. He was sentenced to death the following year.
He was due to be hanged on Wednesday after losing a string of appeals, despite growing international outrage and claims by his supporters, his intellectual disability makes him unable to make rational decisions.
The execution was suspended after an appeal of last resort was filed, with the appeals court due to hear the challenge on Tuesday.
But Judge Andrew Phang Boon Leong announced that Nagaenthran had contracted Covid-19, meaning the appeal could not continue and the execution was suspended.
He invoked “logic, common sense and humanity” in deciding to delay the hanging.
Nagaenthran’s lawyer, Mr Ravi, told reporters he was “pleasantly surprised that this man, due to Covid, cannot be executed”.
He had been “saved by none other than divine strength,” he added.
There was no immediate indication of when the appeal could now take place.
Ahead of court proceedings, activists warned that the appeal could be hastily dismissed, paving the way for execution to take place on Wednesday as originally scheduled.
A UN human rights panel on Monday added its voice to growing concerns surrounding the case, saying people with intellectual disabilities should not be executed.
“The use of 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 the Malaysian prime minister has written to his Singaporean counterpart to request a postponement of the execution.
An online petition calling for the commutation of Nagaenthran’s death sentence has collected nearly 70,000 signatures.
If the execution does eventually take place, it will be the first since 2019 in Singapore, which defends its use of the death penalty as an effective deterrent against crime.
Nagaenthran was arrested aged 21 after a packet of heroin weighing around 43 grams – the equivalent of about three tablespoons – was found strapped to his thigh as he tried to enter in Singapore.
Supporters say he has an IQ of 69 – a level recognized as a disability – was struggling with a drinking problem and was coerced into committing the crime.
But Singapore’s Home Office defended the decision to continue the hanging, saying court rulings concluded he “knew what he was doing” at the time of the offense.
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