‘May I hold my family’s hands?’ Singapore death row prisoner’s last request on eve of execution

Singapore: An intellectually impaired man due to be executed in Singapore on Wednesday has farewelled family members in emotional scenes inside the city-state’s highest court after an 11th-hour bid by his mother to spare his life was thrown out.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a 34-year-old Malaysian man convicted of drug trafficking more than a decade ago, had attracted the support of celebrities including Richard Branson and Stephen Fry in a high-profile attempt to commute his mandatory death sentence on the basis he was mentally disabled with an IQ of 69.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam pictured with his nephew.

However, his final appeal was rejected last month and despite his mother Panchalai Supermaniam attempting another legal challenge in Singapore’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday, he is due to be hanged at Changi Prison at 6am (8am AEST) on Wednesday.

There were tears from family members from Malaysia gathered inside the court as Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Belinda Ang dismissed the last-minute application for another stay of execution, saying: “There must come a time when the last word of the court is the last word”.

Dressed in a purple prison uniform and standing in the dock behind a glass screen, Nagaenthran did not argue with the decision but asked one last question of the court.

“I’d like to make a last-minute request to spend some time with my family members,” he said via a translator. “I’m placing this request so I can hold my family members’ hands. Here in court, Your Honour, I would like to hold my family members’ hands, not in prison. May I please have permission to hold their hands here?”

Panchalai Supermaniam, the mother of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, arrives at court in Singapore with family members and supporters on Tuesday.Credit:Chris Barrett

The request was approved and Nagaenthran placed his hands through a small gap in the screen to touch those of his mother and other relatives. Having come to court on Tuesday during what would have been the time for a final visit of his family in prison, he was also allowed to spend two hours with them in the basement of the court complex, although with no physical contact.

After 13 years behind bars, his appearance was different to the images of him from before he was caught trying to smuggle 42.72 grams of heroin into Singapore in 2009, for which he was given a mandatory death sentence. A receding hairline had replaced the locks of pre-jail photographs and his build was more solid.

Representing herself in court, his mother Panchalai also used a translator to issue a last-minute plea to a three-judge panel.

“I am Nagaenthran’s mother,” she said. “I want my son back alive, Your Honour. We are in dire straits now.”

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam (second from left) before his imprisonment, with his elder sister Sarmila (right) and two other relatives.

She had on Monday filed a joint application with Nagaenthran to have the judgments of his multiple appeals rendered null and void because Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon – who had ruled on them since 2016 – was the country’s attorney-general when the Malaysian man was prosecuted more than a decade ago.

However, any suggestion of bias or a denial of a fair trial was “devoid of merit” and “an abuse of the court’s process”, the three judges presiding over the Court of Appeal on Tuesday concluded.

Phang said Nagaenthran’s legal team had been given previous opportunities to object to Menon overseeing his appeals and had raised no issues. He described the filing of such a complaint only two days before the carrying out of the sentence as a “backdoor attempt to undermine the finality of the court process” to “disrupt [Nagaenthran’s] execution”. “[He has] exhausted his rights of appeal over some 11 years,” he said.

The judges also dismissed the claim by Nagaenthran’s mother that she needed time to consult a lawyer to assist her with the case. “The documents she filed … were clearly drafted by a lawyer,” Phang said.

Public prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong had earlier dismissed the application by Nagaenthran as an “abuse of the court’s process”.

“We have also checked and confirmed that the Chief Justice did not have any involvement in Nagaenthran’s matter when he was attorney-general,” he said.

Singapore’s courts determined during multiple appeals that Nagaenthran was not disabled and knew what he was doing at the time of the offence.

He is due to become the second death-row prisoner in Singapore executed this year after Abdul Kahar bin Othman, a 68-year-old Singaporean, was hanged at Changi on March 30, also for drug importation. Another Malaysian man convicted of drugs crimes – Datchinamurthy Kataiah – is also due to be executed in Singapore on Friday.

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