Appeal of Drug Trafficker on Death Row in S’pore Adjourned Again


You may have seen posts with the hashtag “#SaveNagaenthran” floating around social media, an online campaign asking the President to grant clemency to Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam.

Why is he sentenced to death? Why is everyone so concerned about this case? When is the next hearing?

Here’s all you need to know about this case.

Why Is The Hearing Adjourned?

Nagaenthran’s appeal for judicial review proceedings to challenge his execution was scheduled to be heard on 24 January, but has since been adjourned.

It was reported that Ms Violet Netto, Nagaenthran’s new lawyer following Mr M. Ravi, had applied for this adjournment. No new hearing date has been fixed.

The hearing was scheduled to be heard by a panel of five judges. They are Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash, Belinda Ang and Chao Hick Tin.

What Happened Since His Arrest?

Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009, and convicted of trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin in 2010. He was given the death penalty, which was mandatory back then.

Appeals against his conviction and sentence were dismissed in 2011. He tried again to be resentenced to life imprisonment after the law was changed to allow that in 2015.

However, the High Court decided not to re-sentence him in 2017 after consulting four psychiatric and psychological experts.

Four years later, Nagaenthran made a last-minute attempt to challenge his execution on 10 November 2021, due to him suffering from mental disabilities.

He appealed again on 9 November when his bid was dismissed by the High Court. Appeal or not, he was not meant to meet death’s door on that day, as he tested positive for COVID-19.

His infection granted him a stay of execution and the hearing for his appeal was adjourned to 24 January this year… then adjourned again.

Why Are People Fighting For Him On Social Media?

Multiple activists have written letters to President Halimah Yacob. The petition has reached 100,670 signatures. There have been multiple statements condemning Singapore’s decision to execute Nagaenthran.

It truly wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the whole world is trying to save him. But you may think: there are many drug traffickers caught and sentenced in Singapore. Why fight for Nagaenthran in particular?

Well, what most people have issues with is how Nagaenthran is intellectually disabled. He was assessed to have an IQ of 69, impaired executive functioning, and ADHD. His low IQ is at a level internationally recognised as an intellectual disability.

He was also allegedly coerced and threatened into trafficking drugs. They thus deem him to be unable to make rational decisions and assess risk and consequences, given his psychiatric assessment results and the circumstances of his crime.


Furthermore, Nagaenthran has been repeatedly denied hearings for his appeals, and thus has not been given a fair chance to prove himself.

All of these reasons sound legit, right? Well, the experts beg to differ.

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Experts Concluded that Nagaenthran Not Intellectually Disabled

Yes, this is where it gets kind of confusing.

Basically, the public says that IQ of 69 and impaired higher brain functioning means that he was unable to make rational decisions and assess risk and consequences.

However, evidence from four different psychiatric experts says that eh, he can actually plan and manipulate, as well as assess risk and rewards leh. 


To address the IQ of 69 controversy, the High Court noted that “IQ test scores are approximations of conceptual functioning but may be insufficient to assess reasoning in real-life situations and mastery of practical tasks”.

Basically, low IQ does not necessarily mean that he didn’t know what he was doing.

For instance, he told the Central Narcotic Bureau officers who stopped him that he was working in security, to make himself seem more trustworthy.

He also apparently kept changing his educational qualifications to make it seem like he was more lowly educated with each interview he had.

During the crime, he also wore super baggy pants to hide the pack of heroin he strapped to his left thigh.

The nail in the coffin? He committed his crime to pay off his debt. That meant that he had previously assessed the risks and rewards of this crime before he acted on it.


Given all this evidence, the court concluded that he was not intellectually disabled and was actually clear of what he was doing.

Additionally, Nagaenthran has been represented by a legal team throughout this entire process and was accorded full due process under the law.

This basically dismantled most of his supporters’ strongest arguments. But there’s also more reasons why people are fighting for him.

Violating International Human Rights Law? 

Another point of international concern is that the execution of a mentally disabled or ill person like Nagaenthran is prohibited under international human rights law. It is also prohibited under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which Singapore has actually signed.

Yes, the court did provide evidence that Nagaenthran fully knew what he was doing. But the fact that his IQ is at mental-disability standards still holds.


Executing Nagaenthran could possibly mean that Singapore is violating international laws that it has acknowledged and ratified.

This case has generated so much international attention that there has been a plethora of international media coverage, including the BBC, New York Times and Al Jazeera.

As of today (25 January), there have been at least 26 statements from local and international sources alike, including the United Nations and European Union.

Included in these sources are also organisations that span multiple different fields, like law, psychology, human rights activists and environmentalists.

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