Singapore has executed a man at dawn on Wednesday for his role in a plot to smuggle one kilogram of cannabis into the country, despite pleas for clemency from his family, activists, and people around the world.
46 year old Tangaraju Suppiah was hanged at Changi prison complex this morning for breaking Singapore’s notoriously strict drug laws. Last year the country executed 11 people, all for drug offences.
Richard Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy urged Singapore to halt the killing, and the United Nations Human Rights Office called on authorities to “urgently reconsider’ its plans.
Tangaraju was sentenced to death in 2018 for his alleged part in a plot to import 1kg of cannabis into the country, after a trial that activists voiced many concerns over, including the fear that he was not allowed access to a lawyer, or an interpreter.
He had been convicted of “abetting by engaging in a conspiracy to traffic” cannabis from Malaysia to Singapore in 2013, despite not being found with drugs or involved in the delivery. Prosecutors alleged he had been responsible for coordinating the import after tracing two phone numbers used in the plot back to him.
However, Tangaraju denied his involvement, claiming he had lost one of the phones involved and that he had no connection to the second.
Tangaraju represented himself in November last year when filing an application for his case to be reviewed after his previous appeal was unsuccessful. According to activists, it is difficult for those on death row in Singapore to get access to lawyers, and they are often forced to represent themselves.
Campaigners also claimed Mr Suppiah, a native Tamil speaker, was questioned by police in English without an interpreter, a claim that was repeated during his court trial.
Phil Robertson from the organisation Human Rights Watch questioned the behaviour of the country saying, “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.”
The family of Tangaraju held out hope until the end, appealing to the country’s President Halimah Yacob in a video message to stop the execution. His niece said, “They will kill him at 6 am, we’ll keep the hope until 5.55 am. My uncle is a very good man, he didn’t have education or money but he worked very hard to look after us.”
The Singaporean government claim Mr Suppiah received a fair trial, criticised those who questioned the trial, and maintained its stance that executing people for drug offences acts as a strong deterrent to those thinking about breaking the law.
However, this point of view is widely contested. Speaking to The Guardian Maya Foa, director of the non-profit organisation Reprieve, said, “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 Mr Suppiah’s “will only lead to increased opposition to the death penalty in Singapore”.