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PM Ismail appeals to Singapore’s Lee as execution of Malaysian man draws closer

This comes as the city-state dismisses outrage over its plan to carry out the death sentence on Nagaenthran Dharmalingam on Wednesday.

Our Regional Correspondent
3 minute read
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has written to his Singapore counterpart asking for leniency towards Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, a Malaysian prisoner on death row whose planned execution on Nov 10 has sparked outrage from rights groups.

In a letter to Lee Hsien Loong, Ismail said he understood the Singapore government’s refusal to halt the execution based on the assertion that all legal processes have been exhausted, adding however that he hoped Nagaenthran’s appeal could be considered “purely on humanitarian grounds”.

“As a lawyer myself, I know that the legal and judicial systems of Malaysia and Singapore share many similarities. I believe there is still room for the government of Singapore to consider granting a stay of execution and allowing for a new petition for presidential clemency in the case of Mr Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam,” said Ismail in the letter sighted by MalaysiaNow.

At the heart of the outrage over Nagaenthran’s execution next Wednesday is a diagnosis of his mental capability, which found among other that he has an IQ of 69 – below the threshold of 70 for declaring a person as intellectually disabled.

Over the past two weeks, rights groups have mounted a campaign seeking to save Nagaenthran’s life, with dozens of civil society activists gathering outside the Malaysian Parliament last week to highlight his case to MPs.

An online petition meanwhile has gathered close to 60,000 signatures urging Singapore President Halimah Yacob to grant Nagaenthran a pardon, saying he should be released based on a psychiatric report which said he did not have the ability to understand the consequences of his actions.

Critics also remind the Singapore government of its obligation to abide by international treaties prohibiting capital punishment for mentally disabled persons.

But the city-state has twice dismissed the protests, saying Nagaenthran was fully aware of his actions and suggesting that he was fabricating his mental state by altering his academic qualifications to show he has inferior IQ.

The claims drew immediate condemnation from Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), a vocal critic of Singapore’s human rights record, in particular its handling of death row inmates convicted of drug trafficking.

“In no way does the excuse of having a tough anti-drug policy ameliorate or justify the hanging of a mentally disabled person. Nothing can make this execution right or palatable to any decent right-minded person,” the group said.

The Singapore High Court is set to hear a constitutional challenge tomorrow filed by prominent rights advocate M Ravi, in what could be the only legal avenue to save Nagaenthran’s life.

Ismail’s letter to Lee is one of several instances of the Malaysian government officially stepping in to urge Singapore to spare the life of its citizens sentenced to death in the island state.

In 2019, Singapore ignored appeals from the Malaysian government as well as a petition for clemency for Malaysian drug trafficker Abd Helmi Ab Halim, whose execution was carried out in November that year.

The Singapore government has always defended its death penalty for drug trafficking, unlike Malaysia which has imposed a moratorium for drug-related crimes pending a review.

Critics have pointed out that many of those convicted were drug mules from poor families, while the drug kingpins who employed them would often go unpunished.

Following Helmi’s execution, Singapore urged Malaysia to “do more to help save the lives of Malaysians” by stepping up its war on drug crimes at its borders with the city-state.

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