Here’s Why Another M’sian Who Was Due to be Executed Today (29 Apr) Was Granted a Stay of Execution

Singapore remains as one of the few countries that implements capital punishment in the law of court, but in the recent decades, there hasn’t been as many executions as the 1950s to 1980s.

For drug trafficking in particular, the last execution before Abul Khalar Othman and Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, who were hanged on 30 March 2022 and 27 April 2022 respectively, was Chikoke Stephan Obiaha, a Nigerian who was hanged on 18 November 2016.

That’s at least five years apart.

Regardless of whether it’s because the government is being more transparent about these executions, or news outlets and other humanitarian organisations happened to catch wind of them in advance, 2022 has already seen more executions than any other year since the early 2000s.

Death Row Inmate Datchinamurthy Kataiah

Another convicted Malaysian drug trafficker called Datchinamurthy Kataiah, was due for the gallows on Friday, 29 April, after a ruling made by the Singapore High Court on 28 April.

He made another appeal on the same day and was granted a last-minute stay of execution.

Perhaps the news will have some readers bristling in anger: what makes Datchinamurthy so different, such that he managed to delay his own death where Nagaenthran—an individual that has proven to be intellectually disabled—had failed?

Well, it boils down to a civil application that he and 12 other death row inmates had filed against the Attorney-General (A-G).

The hearing for the civil application in question is meant to take place on 20 May, and it seeks declarations and damages over the disclosure of the inmate’s private letters to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) without their explicit permission or on the court’s orders.

If the execution proceeds as scheduled, Datchinamurthy will be dead before the trial begins.

A dead man tells no tales; a dead man can’t testify in court.  

Hence, the three-panel judge, consisting of Justices Andrew Pang, Judith Prakesh, and Belinda Ang, saw fit to grant him a stay of execution.

Although the AGC proceeded to appeal the stay of execution, the Court of Appeal dismissed it.

Hence, Datchinamurthy Kataiah has managed to prolong his life by another 21 days at least.

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Breach of Confidence by the Attorney-General Chambers

It must sound rather strange for a group of death row inmates to file a civil application against the Attorney-General Chambers.

Certainly, criminals have broken the law and thereby bereft of most of their rights, but that doesn’t mean that they have none.

Datchinamurthy was given the mandatory death sentence in 2015, and his appeal was dismissed in Feb 2016.

In Jan 2020, Datchinamurthy and another inmate Gobi Avedian sought to stay their executions, by alleging that “unlawful” methods were being used in capital punishment.

In April of the same year, Datchinamurthy complained to the court that he and Gobi’s private letters had been “illegally copied and forwarded by Prison” to the AGC.

His complaint was not unwarranted; said copies of those letters were destroyed in June that year.

The incident didn’t stir up any waves as the Court of Appeal dismissed the pair’s case in August.

However, the court did rule that prison officials are not allowed to send copies of the inmates’ documents and correspondence to the AGC without the prison’s consent or court order.

The court also acknowledged that it was an oversight in this case.

That wasn’t the end though.

A year later, in July 2021, Datchinamurthy and 12 other inmates filed a civil application against the A-G.

The offence was the same, and they wanted the court to declare that the A-G and Singapore Prisons Office had acted beyond their legal boundaries – the former for requesting the prisoner’s letters, and the latter for disclosing them.

Hence, they sought damage for the breach of confidence and nominal damages for copyright infringement.

It’s unclear what happened in between, but the application was withdrawn three months later.

Activist lawyer M. Ravi, their legal representative, was ordered to pay $10,000 in legal costs.

In Feb 2022, the 13 inmates lodged the report again, seeking similar declarations and damages.

While Deputy Senior State Counsel Yang Ziliang argued that the civil application holds little relation to Datchinamurthy’s conviction or sentence, the Court of Appeal upheld their decision to grant Datchinamurthy a stay of execution.

Thus, he will likely live until that civil court hearing is over. 

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Featured Image: Facebook (M Ravi)