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Drug trafficker's execution stayed after he tests positive for Covid-19

Drug trafficker's execution stayed after he tests positive for Covid-19

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 10 Nov 2021
Author: Selina Lum

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam is seeking to challenge his execution, contending he had the mental age of a person below 18.

The execution of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was stayed after he tested positive for Covid-19. This was revealed before a packed courtroom yesterday.

He was scheduled to be hanged today for drug trafficking.

Nagaenthran was granted the stay of execution by a three-judge Court of Appeal that was urgently convened to hear his challenge against his death sentence. Nagaenthran was briefly brought to the dock before he was led away.

When the session started, Justice of the Court of Appeal Andrew Phang said: "We understand that he has tested positive for Covid-19."

He said the court will adjourn the hearing to a date to be fixed, and issued a stay of execution until all proceedings are concluded.

In a statement last night, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) said an antigen rapid test and a polymerase chain reaction test were administered on Nagaenthran on Monday.

His ART came back negative on Monday and he was taken to court at noon yesterday.

After his test result came back positive later in the afternoon, "SPS immediately informed the court and Nagaenthran was isolated", the statement said.

It added that Nagaenthran, who opted not to be vaccinated, will receive medical attention and proceedings will resume on a date to be fixed, after he has recovered.

"Nagaenthran is well and asymptomatic. He did not report any illness prior to his court hearing... SPS has informed his family and will continue to provide the family with the necessary support."

Nagaenthran is seeking to challenge his execution, contending that he has the mental age of a person below 18. He has argued that the execution of intellectually disabled persons is prohibited under customary international law as this amounted to inhuman punishment. He also claimed that SPS has an internal policy not to execute convicts who are mentally disabled - a claim SPS has refuted.

The Attorney-General's Chambers argued that Nagaenthran is not intellectually disabled, and presented the testimony of a senior prison officer who had interacted with him for three years.

On Monday, High Court judge See Kee Oon dismissed Nagaenthran's bid to challenge his execution, saying there was no credible basis for Nagaenthran's assertions as to his mental age. The alleged mental age was based solely on the opinion of his lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, who has no medical expertise and has met the prisoner only once, on Nov 2, for 26 minutes, the judge noted.

Justice See reiterated that Nagaenthran has been accorded due process in accordance with the law. However, the judge granted an interim stay of execution pending the hearing of his appeal, which was fixed for yesterday.

Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009 at the age of 21 with a bundle of heroin strapped to his thigh.

His case came under the spotlight late last month when a letter from SPS to his mother in Ipoh on Oct 26 was circulated on social media.

A petition calling for Nagaenthran to be pardoned from the death sentence has garnered over 64,000 signatures. It argues that he should be spared the gallows because he had committed the offence under duress, and had been assessed to have a low IQ of 69.

He was sentenced to death by the High Court in 2010 after being convicted of trafficking 42.72g of heroin. The law provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin imported is more than 15g.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal against his conviction and sentence in July 2011. In 2013, the law was changed to give judges the discretion to impose life terms and caning for drug couriers, instead of death, if specific conditions are met. Nagaenthran applied on Feb 24, 2015, to be re-sentenced under the new regime. The High Court held that he knew what he was doing, and upheld the sentence in 2017.

In 2019, the Court of Appeal said it was satisfied that Nagaenthran clearly understood the nature of his acts. It noted that he knew it was unlawful for him to be transporting drugs and he tried to conceal the bundle by strapping it to his left thigh and wearing a large pair of trousers over it.

This was the working of a criminal mind, weighing the risks and countervailing benefits associated with the criminal conduct in question, the court added.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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