Saturday, January 22, 2022

Please save my son: A letter from Nagaenthran’s mother to Singapore president

Panchalai Supermaniam tells of her son's childhood and the circumstances leading to his arrest and detention in Singapore on death row.

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Dear Madam Halimah Yacob,

My name is Panchalai Supermaniam and I am the mother of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam. I am writing on behalf of Nagen to plead for clemency from the death penalty, and have attached legal arguments in support of clemency prepared by an international legal team that has been assisting Nagen and our family.

Nagen got mixed up in criminal activity and sentenced to death because he has disabilities that affect his reasoning and judgment. Now, his mental condition has become so bad that he is not competent for execution. I know he is facing the death penalty because he made a mistake, but he is intellectually disabled and does not deserve to die. His mistake will cost him his life unless you exercise mercy, and grant him clemency.

Nagen’s childhood

Nagen was a sweet, caring and helpful child who loved being with his family. He had a strong sense of responsibility towards all of us, and grew up very close with his siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Throughout his childhood, I was the main breadwinner of the family and we struggled financially. While he was in secondary school, he would work part-time jobs, such as fixing up canopies or accompanying me to the glove factory, so that he could contribute to our family’s income.

I did not want Nagen to go to Singapore. I was worried about him. But Nagen had a friend who told him to go to Singapore to find work, and he insisted on going. He has two younger siblings who are much younger than him. He wanted to work in Singapore so that he could lessen my burden.

Around the time of Nagen’s arrest, his father, who does not live with us and only visited now and then throughout Nagen’s childhood, was having health issues, and also needed help with his medical bills.

In school, Nagen had difficulty understanding concepts and struggled with his school work. He would often ask his older sister for help to complete his projects. His friends said that he struggled to pay attention in class and would doze off. At that time, we did not have the knowledge or resources to get him assessed by experts and have his disability diagnosed. We did not know that Nagen needed help from more specialised educators, as well as other support to assist him with his intellectual disability.

We know now that the problems he faced in school were related to his borderline intellectual functioning and his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We were not able to protect him from being convicted of a crime, but we have never stopped loving and supporting Nagen.

Nagen’s intellectual disability

I ask that you spare Nagen from execution because he is a person with an intellectual disability. Since childhood, Nagen has been vulnerable because of his intellectual disability. Nagen has always been timid and trusting. He is very easily influenced by others. As long as someone speaks nicely to him or shows him affection, he will immediately trust them, and be willing to blindly follow them into anything.

Many 21-year-old boys are not yet fully mature in their thought processes and behaviours; this was even more so for Nagen because of his cognitive impairments. We believe that his intellectual disability made him susceptible to the situation which led to his conviction and death sentence. He does not deserve to die for this.

To us, it is clear that Nagen needed additional help and support throughout the criminal justice process because of his intellectual disability. Nagen did not receive procedural accommodations during the course of criminal justice proceedings. There were insufficient measures to ensure that he had access to justice on the same basis as others. Although international principles and guidelines advise that there be procedural adjustments for persons with disabilities, such as allowing them to be accompanied by family at all stages of the process, our family were not informed of Nagen’s arrest until about a week later.

According to Singapore’s Ministry for Social Development and Family, the Singapore police force only began training officers to identify suspects and witnesses with mental disabilities in 2013, and the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Persons with Mental Disabilities was only introduced in 2015.

Nagen was arrested in 2009 and would not have benefitted from this scheme or any of the training that police officers later received. Even if the investigating officers had followed the protocol that was standard at the time, our knowledge on how to make sure that persons with disabilities have equal access to justice has grown. The introduction of training for officers and the Appropriate Adult Scheme shows that the Singapore government itself recognises that previous practices were insufficient and could be improved upon.

Madam President, I know that you and the Singapore government care about protecting people with intellectual disabilities. The progress that Singapore has made in offering additional support to persons with disabilities throughout the process is important and necessary, but came only after my son had already been convicted and sentenced to death. Please protect my son Nagen by granting him clemency.

Nagen’s current mental competence

Nagen has now been in prison far away from his family for almost a third of his life. He was so young when he was arrested, and has spent all these years away from us, and all alone, living in a single cell. His mental condition has deteriorated dramatically after being in prison for so long.

We visited Nagen in early November. We found his mental condition to have deteriorated from the last time we’d seen him years ago. Nagen is disoriented, and can’t sustain eye contact when he talks to people. Nagen has moments of lucidity, but then doesn’t register what people say to him and speaks about himself as if he is a different person. He doesn’t speak in full sentences, and is incoherent. Sometimes his eyes dart around the room as if he is looking at people who are not there. Nagen talks about going home and eating my home-cooked food. It breaks my heart to hear him say that when I know he is facing death by hanging. I am very concerned that Nagen does not seem to understand that “execution” means that he will die.

Nagen has not had any independent psychological or psychiatric assessment to tell us about his current condition. Nagen told my younger son Navin that he is on medication, which helps him feel calm. We, his family, have not been told what medication this is, but Nagen told Navin that without the medication he would end up in a mental hospital. Nagen’s condition is not stable. It makes me cry when I think about what Nagen is experiencing.

Plea for clemency

Madam Halimah, you are a mother and I am writing to you as a mother. My beloved son Nagen needs your help. He needs compassion and mercy. You have power that I do not to save my son’s life. You have the power to grant him clemency, to spare him from the noose. Please, let my son live free from the threat of death.

Yours sincerely,
Panchalai Supermaniam.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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