Nagaenthran Dharmalingam Won’t be Executed Tomorrow As He Contracted COVID-19


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If you’ve just read the first part of the headline, you’d probably think that the last-ditch appeal has succeeded.

But no, the hearing wasn’t even conducted as something else happened: he has contracted COVID-19.

With that, his scheduled execution tomorrow won’t happen.

Nagaenthran Dharmalingam Won’t be Executed Tomorrow As He Contracted COVID-19

31-year-old Nagaenthran Dharmalingam has been on death row ever since he was convicted and sentenced to death in November 2010 for importing 42.72g of heroin into Singapore. His execution was scheduled for 10 Nov 2021, which is tomorrow.

His lawyer has made one last appeal to the Court of Appeal, and this afternoon, the verdict should be out.

If the appeal is successful, he wouldn’t be executed. If it isn’t, the scheduled execution would occur tomorrow.

However, in court today, Justice Andrew Phang, one of the judges who would give the verdict, told the court that Nagaenthran had tested positive for COVID-19. He did not reveal when it happened.

Nagaenthran was still brought into the courtroom but was escorted out minutes later.

Well, if he has COVID-19, why would his lawyer still make an appeal?

It turned out that both his lawyer and the prosecutor didn’t know of this beforehand.

His lawyer has said, “I was shocked…I believe he was just tested before I rose in the Supreme Court.”

Justice Phang said that it won’t be appropriate to continue the hearing even if it’s done via Zoom. Therefore, together with the two other judges, they issued a stay of execution and adjourned the hearing to an undetermined date.

Now, don’t get confused over the phrase “stay of execution”: the word “execution” here doesn’t refer to the death row. Instead, it means a temporary delay in carrying out a court order, and in this case, the death row.

Justice Phang added, “The judicial execution is scheduled for tomorrow and I cannot imagine — a prisoner has been afflicted with Covid-19. The execution can’t take place anyway.”

So, what’s the appeal about?

What Should Have Happened In the Hearing

Nagaenthran’s lawyer, M Ravi, argued that the execution, if it proceeds, would be “unlawful” and unconstitutional given the offender’s “prima facie severe mental disabilities.”

He noted that Nagaenthran had been diagnosed with “borderline intellectual functioning”, and that he had an “IQ score” of 69.

M Ravi added that Nagaenthran has the “mental age of 18” and “does not appear to understand what is happening to him in respect of the impending execution of his sentence of death”.

The lawyer also invoked a resolution issued by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which calls upon all states not to impose a death penalty on “a person suffering from any form of mental disorder…”

These were the arguments put forth by M Ravi before the High Court. The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), however, disputes some of these assertions.

No Credible Basis For Assertions About Mental Age

For one, it said that the lawyer’s evidence supporting the assertion over Nagaenthran’s mental age was “contrary to the objective facts”.

It also pointed to the High Court’s finding that there was “no credible basis” for such an assertion.

“Ravi himself conceded that he possesses no medical expertise to comment on this matter,” said AGC’s said in a statement yesterday (8 Nov).

AGC noted that a senior officer from the Singapore Prison Service who had interacted and observed Nagaenthran for nearly three years has never observed any abnormal behaviour.

“He has no problem communicating with SPS officers in English, Malay and Tamil, making
requests and responding to instruction,” AGC said.

AGC maintained that when Nagaenthran was notified that his execution would be
carried out in the near future, he confirmed that he understood what that meant, and even took steps to “arrange his personal affairs”.

This included requesting religious counselling and requesting a visit from his family members even though he had declined their visits and calls for the three years prior.


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According to the AGC, Nagaenthran undergoes regular medical and psychiatric assessments in prison. It said that M Ravi had objected to producing records of Nagaenthran’s latest assessments.

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