Singapore Executes Man Accused of Smuggling 1 kg of Cannabis Despite International Condemnation
Tangaraju Suppiah was sentenced to death in 2018 after a judge found he was the owner of a phone number used to coordinate a cannabis deal. Despite international protest that he may have been innocent, he was executed at Changi Prison Complex this morning.
Rebecca Ratcliffe, Guardian South East Asia Correspondent
This report from The Guardian published on 26 April 2023..
Singapore has hanged a prisoner for conspiracy to smuggle one kilogram of cannabis, authorities said, ignoring international protests and concerns that he lacked full access to a lawyer or interpreter.
The United Nations Human Rights Office had called for Singapore to “urgently reconsider” the hanging and British tycoon Richard Branson had urged the city state halt it.
Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, was sentenced to death in 2018 after a judge found he was the owner of a phone number used to coordinate an attempt to traffic the cannabis.
He was executed at Changi prison complex on Wednesday, 26 April 2023, Singapore Prisons Service told Agence France-Presse.
Campaigners had cited various concerns over the handling of his case, including claims he was questioned by police without legal counsel, and claims made in court that Suppiah, a Tamil speaker, was questioned by police in English without an interpreter.
In November last year, when Tangaraju filed an application for his case to be reviewed after an unsuccessful appeal, he represented himself in court. Activists say he is one of a growing number of death row prisoners doing so, because of difficulties in accessing lawyers.
On Tuesday night, Tangaraju’s family filmed a video appeal, asking the public to continue calling on Singapore’s president, Halimah Yacob, to stop his execution. They would not give up hope, said his niece. “They will kill him at 6am, we’ll keep the hope until 5.55am,” she said. “My uncle is a very good man, he didn’t have education or money but he worked very hard to look after us.”
Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch called the execution outrageous. “Singapore’s continued use of the death penalty for drug possession is a human rights outrage that makes much of the world recoil, and wonder whether the image of modern, civilised Singapore is just a mirage,” he said.
The Singaporean government maintains that the death penalty is an effective deterrent against drug-related crime and that it is widely supported by the public.
Last year Singapore executed 11 people for drug-related cases, including Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with learning difficulties whose case caused a global outcry as well as a rare protest in Singapore.
Maya Foa, director of non-profit organisation Reprieve, said Tangaraju’s execution “will only lead to increased opposition to the death penalty in Singapore”.
“Singapore claims it affords people on death row ‘due process’, but in reality fair-trial violations in capital punishment cases are the norm: defendants are being left without legal representation when faced with imminent execution, as lawyers who take such cases are intimidated and harassed,” she said.
Ming Yu Hah at Amnesty International also condemned the execution, saying there were “many flaws in the case”.
Branson, a member of the Geneva-based Global Commission on Drug Policy, wrote Monday on his blog that Tangaraju was “not anywhere near” the drugs at the time of his arrest and that Singapore may be about to put an innocent man to death.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry responded on Tuesday, stating that Tangaraju’s guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The ministry said two mobile phone numbers that prosecutors said belonged to him had been used to coordinate the delivery of the drugs.
It accused Branson of disrespecting Singapore’s courts, which it said had “thoroughly and comprehensively” examined the case over more than three years.
In many parts of the world – including neighbouring Thailand – cannabis has been decriminalised, with authorities abandoning prison sentences.
Rights groups have been heaping pressure on Singapore to abolish capital punishment. The Asian financial hub has some of the world’s toughest anti-narcotics laws and insists the death penalty remains an effective deterrent against trafficking.
The United Nations says the death penalty has not proven to be an effective deterrent globally and is incompatible with international human rights law, which only permits capital punishment for the most serious crimes.
The UN’s Office of the high commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday 25 April 2023: “The death penalty is still being used in a small number of countries, largely because of the myth that it deters crime.”
With Agence France-Presse