Singapore Just Hung Its First Death Row Inmate in 2 Years, With More Set to Follow

The execution comes a day after a Singapore court upheld the death sentence of another inmate said to have “borderline intellectual functioning.”

Singapore hanged its first prisoner in over two years today, as the city-state looks set to resume executions after a hiatus during the pandemic. The execution came the day after the country’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of another death row inmate, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, whose case has sparked controversy because of his “borderline intellectual functioning.” 

Abdul Kahar bin Othman, a 68-year-old Malaysian man convicted of trafficking a total of 66.77g of diamorphine in 2013, was hanged at dawn this morning. As Kahar arrived at the gallows, a group of anti-death penalty activists held a candlelight vigil outside the prison compound in solidarity. 

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Kirsten Han, a member of the Transformative Justice Collective, a local activist group that campaigns for the abolishment of the death penalty in Singapore, was at the vigil.

“It’s always really sad and horrible when you know that an execution is going to take place. A few friends and I didn’t want to process all this alone so we decided to get together and quietly light candles, so we could accompany and support one another at this time.” she told VICE World News. 

Kahar’s execution is the latest in what activists call Singapore’s alarming “persistence” in carrying out death sentences, and what many fear is a sign of the resumption of executions after a more than two-year hiatus. 

His hanging came one day after the rejection of a last-ditch effort to overturn the death penalty of Nagaenthran, another Malaysian convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore, whose sentence was upheld despite his defense team arguing that he has an intellectual disability due to his low IQ. 

Last year, Nagaenthran’s case became the center of a high-profile movement to abolish capital punishment in Singapore, galvanizing local activists and international rights groups, as well as drawing the support of British billionaire and anti-death penalty campaigner Richard Branson

In October, Nagaenthran’s family found out about his scheduled execution through a matter-of-fact letter explaining COVID travel restrictions in Singapore should they wish to visit him before his hanging. The treatment of the family, along with Nagaenthran‘s assessment as having borderline intellectual functioning, stoked widespread public anger at his death sentence. 

Nagaenthran’s execution, initially scheduled for November last year, was adjourned after he tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the court rejected his appeal, saying that he had been “accorded his right to due process of law with full consideration of his degree of mental responsibility.”

For now, it’s unclear when Nagaenthran’s execution will take place, though activists say that it could come as soon as seven days. Families of inmates are usually informed about a week before the scheduled execution, leaving them with little time to make travel arrangements while dealing with the imminent death of their loved ones. 

“It is so difficult to accept that your loved one is being deliberately put to death, to be able to count down the hours to the time that your loved one is going to be killed. How does one even begin to deal with this sort of pain?”

Calling Kahar’s execution today “a stain upon our collective conscience,” Han pointed to the ripple effect that his execution has on other death row inmates and their families.

“It is a demonstration of the state’s determination to keep executing people, and a reminder to them that their loved ones might be next,” she said.

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“It is so difficult to accept that your loved one is being deliberately put to death, to be able to count down the hours to the time that your loved one is going to be killed. How does one even begin to deal with this sort of pain?”

In a virtual conversation with Transformative Justice Collective prior to Kahar’s execution on Tuesday, his brother Mutalib reminisced about their childhood and spoke out against the injustice he felt about the situation. Having grown up in poverty, Kahar struggled with drug addiction as a teenager and as a result spent much of his life in prison, said Mutalib.

Saying his brother was “sick,” Mutalib urged for a more rehabilitative approach in dealing with those like Kahar. “Yeah, you can punish him. It’s OK to punish people,” he said. “But not kill.”

“Abdul Kahar isn’t the first prisoner I’ve encountered who had a very difficult childhood marked by poverty and deprivation,” Han said. “He is also not the first to be struggling with substance use disorder.”

The last known execution in Singapore took place in November 2019, when Abd Helmi Ab Halim, another drug trafficker, was executed for carrying 16.56 grams of heroin from Malaysia to Singapore.

“Following more than two years of no executions in 2020 and 2021, it is appalling that the Singapore government is planning to resume this cruel practice imminently,” an Amnesty International spokesperson said in February, shortly before the scheduled execution of convicted drug traffickers Roslan Bin Bakar and Pausi Bin Jefridin.

The two were granted a last-minute reprieve by Singapore President Halimah Yacob, staying their executions for an indefinite period. The men’s lawyer also argued both had an intellectual disabilities. 

Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.

Tagged:

Singapore, Capital Punishment, worldnews

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