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Singapore keeps trying to clear its death row “backlog”

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
4 min read

Covid restrictions are being significantly relaxed this coming week! From 26 April, there'll be no more limits on social gatherings and, very importantly, most venues are going to stop requiring TraceTogether/SafeEntry!


Singapore can’t stop scheduling executions

On Wednesday, Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam’s family received the phone call they’ve been dreading: his execution date has been set for 27 April (Wednesday). On Friday, another family was struck a blow: the prison also issued an execution notice for Datchinamurthy a/l Kataiah, fixing his hanging for 29 April (Friday).

I’ve written about the death penalty for this newsletter quite a lot — notably here, here, and here, with an additional piece on procedural accommodations for someone with disabilities like Nagen — and last updated this FAQ on Singapore’s capital punishment regime at the end of last year. But here are some basics about Nagen and Datch: both are Malaysian men in their 30s who have been convicted of drug trafficking. Both have each spent over a decade on death row, confined to single cells for 23 hours a day. They have become close friends on death row. Datch wept when Nagen got his execution notice. Now he has one of his own to grapple with.

Nagen and Datch's families now have to scramble against the clock to come visit them in Singapore. Although the borders between Singapore and Malaysia are now open, the advance notice given to Nagen’s family in Ipoh has also been halved from two weeks to one. Thank goodness Malaysia can issue passports quickly.

What makes Datch’s scheduled execution even more shocking is that he is currently party to a legal application to do with the private correspondence of 13 death row prisoners being copied and forwarded to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (i.e. prosecution) without their consent. The case hasn’t been heard yet; I understand there’s a hearing scheduled for later in May. So how can Datch be executed while proceedings are still pending?

M Ravi has urged the Malaysian government to take Nagen's case to the International Court of Justice, arguing that international law prohibits the imposition of death sentences on persons with mental disabilities. Nagen's Malaysian counsel, N Surendran, has also taken issue with the fact that Sundaresh Menon, the current Chief Justice who heard two of Nagen's appeals, had been the Attorney-General (and therefore overseeing the prosecution) at the time of Nagen's conviction, sentencing, and initial appeal.

The government seems to be doubling down on their commitment to the death penalty and executions, but we aren't giving up. We were encouraged by the response to the protest against the death penalty earlier this month — now, we're calling on Singaporeans to come out again to signal opposition to the imminent executions of Nagen and Datch, and to continue to press the President and Cabinet to change their minds and grant them clemency. We are gathering at Hong Lim Park again on 25 April (Monday) from 7pm–10pm to oppose these executions, and participate in a vigil for prisoners on death row. You can find more details here. Please join us.


Cheating lawyers-to-be

A total of 11 trainee lawyers were found out to have cheated during their bar exams in 2020. The number had originally been six; among the papers they'd cheated in was one on ethics and professional responsibility. 😒 They retook their bar exams — one had to retake the entire Part B course — and passed, but their admission to the Bar will be delayed by six months (for five) to a year (for one of them). The judge decided not to name the six "in the hope that they will not be prejudiced in the long run." The Law Society says they will "carefully review" the applications of the 11 caught cheating if they apply to be admitted to the Bar again. The Attorney-General's Chambers says that if they apply to be admitted again, they'll have to file affidavits to show why they are "fit and proper" persons to be admitted to the profession.


Jail for TOC chief

Terry Xu has been sent to prison for three weeks for criminal defamation. He'd been charged for publishing a letter from a reader that referred to corruption in the "highest echelons" — the prosecution asserted that this was a reference to the Cabinet. Daniel De Costa, who wrote the letter, was sentenced to three months and three weeks' imprisonment. Daniel will start serving the sentence on 4 May.

"I am opting to serve my sentence with immediate effect and not asking for a stay of sentence even though I am appealing against the conviction. I am not afraid of the jail sentence imposed upon me and strongly deny the charge placed before me," Terry wrote in a Facebook post.



Got some more...

🫢 K Shanmugam has POFMA-ed The Independent Singapore and Toh Han Shih for publishing an article that said that he's going to be stepping down. In this piece, Toh had reported on an interview that Shanmugam did in Tamil, in which he said, "I am here as a minister because of the people’s support and love. The moment when there is no support, I must be ready to leave. When there are capable leaders to replace me, I should be ready to move on." It's true that taking this as indication that he's stepping down is a bit over-the-top, but this kind of thing also need to POFMA ah...


Checking in on the neighbours

🇲🇾 Malaysians are also organising to #SaveNagaenthran. They are calling for Nagen to either be granted clemency by the President/Cabinet of Singapore, or for him to be transferred back to Malaysia. They delivered a memo to Malaysia's Minister of Home Affairs yesterday, urging him to lobby for a prisoner transfer to bring Nagen back to Malaysia (where there is currently a moratorium on executions). This afternoon, there'll be another protest in front of the Singapore High Commission in KL.


Thank you for reading this week! As always, please help me spread the word about this newsletter by sharing it widely.

Weekly Wraps

Kirsten Han Twitter

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.


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