Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has warned authorities in Singapore against harassing the lawyer of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam ahead of the hearing of his bid to set aside his death sentence, scheduled for Jan 24 after a last-minute stay granted in November.
LFL adviser N Surendran said prominent rights lawyer M Ravi had been subjected to “concerted intimidation, oppression and undue pressure” by authorities in the city-state since Nagaenthran was granted a stay of execution following a diagnosis of Covid-19 just before a last-ditch attempt to stop his sentence on Nov 9, 2021.
“This includes tens of thousands of dollars in personal cost orders made by the court against Ravi at the behest of the attorney-general arising from capital punishment cases argued vigorously by Ravi,” Surendran said.
“Cost orders of this nature against a lawyer appearing in capital cases is oppressive and unheard of in commonwealth jurisdictions which adhere to the rule of law,” he said, adding that Ravi had also been threatened with professional disciplinary complaints and “baseless” police investigations.
Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009 for carrying 43g of heroin into Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest anti-drugs laws.
A diagnosis of his mental capability found among other that he has an IQ of 69 – below the threshold of 70 for declaring a person as intellectually disabled.
He was nonetheless sentenced to death the following year and was due to be hanged on Nov 10, 2021 after losing several appeals.
The sentence drew public outrage and sparked pleas for leniency from Malaysian leaders including Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
The case also drew international attention with British tycoon Richard Branson among those urging the Singapore government to grant Nagaenthran a pardon.
LFL said court directions for the filing of documents with short deadlines had been deliberately imposed on Ravi despite authorities knowing that the lawyer was on medical leave for a month.
“The intention is clearly to discourage Ravi from further pursuing vigorous legal challenges in Nagaenthran’s as well as other cases,” it said.
Adding that Ravi’s legal challenges over the years had “hugely embarrassed” Singapore by highlighting the “injustice and barbarity” of its use of the death penalty, LFL said the Singapore government must immediately cease all intimidation tactics, harassment and undue pressure against the lawyer.
“We further urge the judiciary to retract unfair court directions issued to Ravi and ensure a free and fair hearing of the pending applications and appeals,” it said.