Singapore Set for Double Execution This Week That Rights Group Slams as ‘Perverse’

The case bears an eerie resemblance to that of an intellectually disabled death row inmate who made international headlines last year.
Koh Ewe
Singapore upholds death penalty for two drug traffickers.
People queue to enter the Supreme Court in Singapore on Nov. 9, 2021 for an appeal to halt the execution of a Malaysian man convicted of drug trafficking. Photo: Roslan RAHMAN / AF

Singapore is set to execute two inmates convicted of drug trafficking on the same day this week, one of them a man with an IQ of 67. The move has been decried by rights groups, and it comes as the country faces growing scrutiny and international pressure over its approach to capital punishment following the controversial death sentence of another intellectually disabled inmate


Roslan bin Bakar and Pausi bin Jefridin, who were arrested in 2008 for smuggling heroin and meth, are scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday. Sentenced to death in 2010, the two have spent more than 10 years on death row, but their families were suddenly notified of their impending execution on Feb. 9, just seven days before they face the gallows.

For Pausi’s family, who are in Malaysia, this means scrambling to secure tickets to travel to Singapore while navigating COVID restrictions—something Kirsten Han, a member of advocacy group Transformative Justice Collective, which campaigns for the abolition of capital punishment in Singapore, described as “grotesque cruelty.”

“Singapore operates on very punitive logic,” Han told VICE World News. “We actually take pride in how relentless and merciless we can be, telling ourselves that we're just being pragmatic and tough, [and] that's why Singapore's streets are cleaner and safer and we are doing better than others.”

Roslan and Pausi’s case bears an eerie resemblance to that of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with an IQ of 69 who was convicted of drug trafficking in 2009. When it was announced that he would be hanged in Singapore last November, it sparked public outcry over the cruelty of his death sentence and the manner in which it was delivered—a cold, matter-of-fact letter sent to his family. 


Nagaenthran’s case was covered extensively in local and international press, with many expressing shock at the state’s decision to hang a man who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Civil society groups urged authorities to grant clemency to the 34-year-old, while over 100,000 people signed a petition calling for Nagaenthran to be pardoned. Even billionaire and anti-death penalty advocate Richard Branson voiced his support in a blog post and reiterated his calls in January.  

But despite this heightened condemnation and scrutiny of Singapore over its approach to capital punishment, Roslan and Pausi look set to be hanged later this week. 

“Singapore’s determined effort to rack up more executions for drug crimes is both rights-abusing and immoral, and reeks of a perverse desire to intimidate and look tough rather than address drug use and addiction at its roots,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told VICE World News.


“By continuing to put people to death, Singapore aligns itself with some of the worst human rights-abusing nations in the world, such as China, Vietnam, and Iran.” 

With Roslan and Pausi’s execution not drawing nearly as much attention as Nagaenthran’s, Transformative Justice Collective is now spearheading a campaign to raise awareness about their imminent execution while supporting their families.

The city-state takes an extremely hardline approach to drug-related offences. Under the country’s drug control law enacted in 1973, anyone convicted of trafficking more than 15 grams of diamorphine is given the death penalty. Roslan and Pausi were found guilty of trafficking 96.07 grams of diamorphine (heroin) and 76.37 grams of methamphetamine. 

Five years after their sentencing, Pausi admitted in an affidavit that he had conspired with others involved in the drug case to wrongly portray Roslan as the mastermind of the drug deal shortly after their arrest. However, this admission was rejected by the court, and Roslan’s death sentence was upheld. Roslan denies having any involvement.

According to court documents, Roslan was found to have “limited capacity for judgement” due to “underlying cognitive defects.” A defence expert also assessed Pausi’s IQ to be 67, which is considered a “mild intellectual disability.”


Like Nagaenthran and Pausi, many of those who are actually caught and sentenced to death in Singapore are drug mules, not kingpins. Many of them are also found to have been acting under pressure or have limited intellectual capacity.

“When we find that a system is repeatedly and disproportionately affecting marginalised communities and other vulnerable people, we should really be asking if such a system can really be described as ‘justice,’” Han said, adding that she has seen people on death row who were struggling with poverty, addiction, and mental health conditions.

When someone is put on death row in Singapore, their families often live in suspense for years not knowing when their loved ones are to be hanged. But things can change in the blink of an eye, with execution notices being sent out to families as close as one week before the scheduled hanging.

“It's deeply traumatic and painful to receive execution notices just one week before the scheduled execution, and then be expected to be able to juggle things like prison visits, breaking the news to other family members, coordinating arrangements (be they travel or funeral arrangements, often both), all on top of personal mental and emotional anguish,” said Han. 

“This is pain that doesn't end once the death sentence is carried out—it is trauma that they will have to carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

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