Malaysian drug trafficker facing execution gets further stay after testing positive for Covid-19

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

SINGAPORE - 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 on Tuesday (Nov 9).

He was scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday for drug trafficking.

Nagaenthran was granted the stay of his execution, on Tuesday, 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 court 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 issue a stay of execution until all proceedings are concluded.

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

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

"Upon receipt of his positive PCR test result later that afternoon, SPS immediately informed the court and Nagaenthran was isolated," it said.

The statement said 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."

Mr M. Ravi, lawyer for Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, speaking to the press on Nov 9, 2021. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

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

He argued that the execution of intellectually disabled persons is prohibited under customary international law as this amounted to inhuman punishment.

He also claimed the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has an internal policy not to execute convicts who are mentally disabled - a claim the agency 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, last Tuesday, 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 then fixed on Tuesday afternoon.

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 the SPS to his mother in Ipoh on Oct 26 was circulated on social media.

The letter informed her the death sentence on her son would be carried out on Nov 10 and SPS would facilitate extended daily visits till then.

A petition calling for Nagaenthran to be pardoned from the death sentence has garnered more than 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 Misuse of Drugs Act 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. His execution was put on hold as the Government was then carrying out a review of the mandatory death penalty.

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.

One of the issues considered was whether his mental responsibility was substantially impaired at the time of his offence.

After considering the facts and expert evidence from four psychiatry and psychology experts, the High Court held that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing, and upheld the death sentence in 2017.

The court noted that he was continuously altering his account of his education qualifications, ostensibly to reflect lower educational qualifications each time he was interviewed.

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.

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