- Advertisement -

'Saya merayu belas kasihan': In vain, Singapore man begs for life ahead of execution

Against a backdrop of actions against lawyers who have defended death row inmates, the 64-year-old man was forced to defend himself in one final appeal.

Our Regional Correspondent
3 minute read
A series of photos showing Nazeri Lajim in his 30s (left) and 40s (centre), as well as more recently (right). Photo: Transformative Justice Collective
A series of photos showing Nazeri Lajim in his 30s (left) and 40s (centre), as well as more recently (right). Photo: Transformative Justice Collective

With not a single lawyer willing to brave the climate of fear within Singapore's legal fraternity to represent death row inmates like himself, a frail Nazeri Lajim was left begging for compassion, according to witnesses who followed the hearing at the Court of Appeal today. 

"Saya ada keluarga dan adik-beradik yang belum jumpa saya, mengapa saya tidak boleh diberi masa? Saya merayu belas kasihan. Saya warga emas. Saya tahu saya akan mati," Nazeri, who followed the online proceeding from Changi prison, said, speaking in Malay through an interpretor.

(I have family and siblings who haven’t seen me, why can’t I be given time? Please exercise sympathy towards me. I am an elderly person. I know I have to die.)

“I’m afraid there is nothing we can do," came the reply from Andrew Phang, one of the judges hearing the application.

“Is there any sympathy for someone like me? I am begging for your compassion,” Nazeri pleaded again in Malay.

"The decision of the court is final. Court is adjourned," the judge replied.

The conversation ended what little hope Nazeri had of avoiding the gallows, despite a last-minute application by lawyer M Ravi stating that Nazeri was a crucial witness in an ongoing investigation.

Nazeri appeared resigned to his fate, and smiled as he was led away by officers after the decision today. 

The 64-year-old Singaporean, who was sentenced to death in 2017, five years after he was arrested with two bundles containing heroin, has been scheduled for execution tomorrow.

With a troubled childhood and suffering from drug addiction since the age of 14, Nazeri has maintained that the drugs were for his personal consumption, an argument that his lawyers put forward to reopen his case based on medical evidence.

His appearance in court today was the second in the past 24 hours. Yesterday, the High Court rejected his application to set aside his death sentence in order to pursue a judicial review pertaining to his constitutional rights to equal treatment.

In his final appeal today, Nazeri was forced to represent himself as no lawyer had stepped up to speak for him in court, amid what is seen as a climate of fear within Singapore's legal fraternity. 

Several lawyers, including Ravi, either lost their legal licence to practise or were penalised after they were charged with abusing the prosess in representing death row prisoners.

At the court today, the judges hearing a man plead for his life turned their attention to the documents prepared by Nazeri, asking who had assisted him as Nazeri is not highly educated, let alone legally trained.

Nazeri replied that he had received help from a fellow prisoner trained in law.

When the judgment was read in court, Nazeri said he could not understand the legal terms as it was read too quickly.

The judge however said the decision was already made and that the written judgment would be released.

Nazeri was one of 17 death row inmates who had filed a historic suit against the government, accusing it of discrimination and bias in their prosecution due to their Malay ethnicity.

The suit was dismissed late last year with the court calling it an abuse of process. The Singapore attorney-general later took two lawyers who had represented the inmates to court, where he was awarded costs over their filing of the suit "without consent". 

News of Nazeri's execution came a little over a week after Malaysian citizen Kalwant Singh and Singaporean Norasharee Gous were hanged despite similar pleas against their killing from activists and rights lawyers.

The PAP-led Singapore government has defended its spree of executions in recent months even as neighbouring Malaysia announced a major step to abolish the mandatory death penalty, including for drug offenders.

It has also rejected the argument that most of those executed are drug mules from poor families, while the kingpins who hire them have largely escaped the law.

Born to a Malay mother and English father who served with the colonial British army, Nazeri came from a background of poverty from which he tried to escape, only to become addicted to drugs. 

"We were very, very poor, extremely poor, at that time. We struggled, my family worked very hard," his younger sister Nazira said in recent interview published by anti-death penalty NGO Transformative Justice Collective.