Man Set to be Executed Over 1 Kilogram of Cannabis He Never Touched

Tangaraju Suppiah, convicted of abetting a drug trafficking attempt, is set to be hanged next week, sparking concern from activists about the fairness of his conviction.
Koh Ewe
Tangaraju Suppiah​ is set to face the gallows next week, after prison authorities informed his family of his scheduled execution. He is believed to be the first execution this year, renewing attention on Singapore's controversial death penalty. Photo: Cou
The case of Tangaraju Suppiah, who is set to face the gallows next week, is renewing attention on Singapore's controversial death penalty. Photo: Courtesy of the Transformative Justice Collective

Singapore is set to hang a man next week for conspiring to traffic one kilogram of cannabis, in what is believed to be the country’s first execution in six months. The case has sparked renewed debate about capital punishment in the Southeast Asian city-state, with activists expressing concern about the fairness of the man’s trial and conviction.

Tangaraju Suppiah, the 46-year-old death row inmate scheduled to face the gallows, was sentenced to death for abetting an attempt to traffic one kilogram of cannabis, according to a 2018 judgment on his case.


In a letter delivered on Wednesday to Tangaraju’s sister, Leelavathy, prison authorities announced he will be executed on April 26.

11 men were hanged for drug offenses in Singapore last year, according to the Transformative Justice Collective (TJC), a local anti-death penalty advocacy group. The executions proceeded despite widespread criticism of the city-state’s approach to capital punishment, which activists and international rights groups have slammed as inhumane.

“I was terrified because with each person that got an execution notice, I knew it was one closer to my brother. So there’s the constant fear that he might be next,” Leelavathy told VICE World News on Thursday after visiting Tangaraju in prison. “You’re just waiting and hoping that you’re not next.”

Tangaraju was arrested in 2014 for drug consumption and for failing to show up for drug tests. While he was in remand, authorities identified Tangaraju for his potential involvement in a case of cannabis trafficking in September 2013. The court ruled that a phone number used to coordinate a drug delivery belonged to Tangaraju, and found him guilty of abetting the trafficking attempt. Tangaraju denied being involved in the transaction. 


Activists from the advocacy group TJC have expressed concern about how his investigation and trial have been handled. 

Tangaraju’s request for a Tamil interpreter to help record his statements was rejected, and he had trouble understanding the English statement he recorded when it was read back to him, the court heard.

“It is staggering how little is needed to sentence someone to death,” TJC activist Kokila Annamalai told VICE World News. “There is such a high risk that this is an unsafe conviction.”

Singapore holds some of the world’s harshest drug laws, with death sentences handed to those found guilty of trafficking—or abetting the trafficking of—over 500 grams of cannabis. The same penalty may also apply to those who traffic more than 15 grams of heroin or more than 250 grams of methamphetamine.

The city-state has shown no signs of easing its position, despite moves towards liberalizing drug laws elsewhere in the region.

The cannabis industry is booming in nearby Thailand after all parts of the cannabis plant were removed from the country’s narcotics list in June last year. Meanwhile, in a series of landmark legal reforms this month, Malaysia removed the mandatory death penalty and narrowed down offenses punishable by death, including drug trafficking.


“Singapore is shamefully out of step with the international community, where there is a clear trend away from the death penalty, and where a growing number of societies are moving towards harm reduction and public health measures instead of the cruelly punitive criminalization of drugs,” Singaporean journalist Kirsten Han, also a TJC activist, told VICE World News.

“Tangaraju’s case is extremely troubling and there are serious concerns about fairness and due process. He is now facing the gallows despite never having even touched the cannabis that he's been accused of conspiring to traffic,” Han said.

In late 2022, Tangaraju filed a criminal motion asking for a review of his judgment. He represented himself as he was unable to find a lawyer who would take on his case, TJC activists said. The court dismissed the motion in February. 

His sister Leelavathy says he’s been mentally preparing himself for his execution since the motion was dismissed. 

“He didn’t want us, the family, to feel worse, so he will not show any emotion or his distress to us. So he always tries to appear strong,” she said, adding that Tangaraju is the only uncle to her five children.

“No one can accept it… we’re just hoping for a miracle and we will do whatever we can.”

Singapore’s anti-death penalty movement has gained momentum in the city-state over the past 18 months. It first drew international attention in late 2021 after Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, an inmate assessed to have “borderline intellectual functioning,” was scheduled to be executed. Months after his family received his execution notice, and despite mounting public outcry, Nagaenthran was executed in April last year.

Last year, in a rare public protest in Singapore, hundreds gathered after the city-state hanged its first inmate after a pause due to the pandemic. Despite the domestic and international criticism, executions continued to take place throughout last year. 

There’s no indication that next week’s execution will be halted, but activists say they will forge on with efforts to support Tangaraju and his family, as well as broader public education efforts on the death penalty.

“The death penalty doesn’t deliver justice or safety,” Han said. “It only delivers pain.” 

Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.