Crime & Justice

Singapore executes inmate over marijuana trafficking despite outrage

Update 1: Changes headline, adds details and quotes throughout

Singapore, Apr 26 (EFE).- Singapore hanged a prisoner Wednesday convicted of conspiring to traffic marijuana despite outcry from human rights organizations and doubts over his judicial process.

Tangaraju Suppiah, a Singaporean of Tamil origin, was executed in the morning after the United Nations had urged that it be stopped, saying it was unsure about the trial’s guarantees.

“Despite all our efforts, our struggle over the past many years for my brother to get a fair hearing, the government has shown no mercy,” Leela Suppiah, Tangaraju’s sister, said in a Wednesday statement.

He was hanged at about 6am local time (22:00 GMT) in Changi prison, after being sentenced to death in 2018 for being an accessory to a conspiracy to traffic 1 kilogram of marijuana from Malaysia to Singapore in 2013.

Singaporean authorities ignored appeals from Tangaraju’s family – who had asked for clemency in a letter sent Sunday to President Halimah Yacob – NGOs and even from the UN Agency for Human Rights, which urged Tuesday that the execution be halted. It said it doubted whether the process had the necessary guarantees.

A marijuana user since adolescence, Tangaraju, 46, was implicated in the case in March 2014, six months after the smuggling attempt, Tangaraju was involved in a case with two others, where his phone numbers were used to communicate with the men involved in the delivery of the cannabis. They were allegedly attempting to introduce the cache into Singapore, which his lawyers and family argue he never saw or touched.

His relatives and activists said he did not receive adequate legal advice and was denied access to a Tamil interpreter when initially questioned by police.

“We are used to seeing a lot of injustice, but with this case we are shocked by how flimsy the evidences are and how easy it is to send someone to the gallows,” Kokila Annamalai, spokeswoman for the Transformative Justice Collective rights organization told EFE Tuesday.

The interior ministry said Tuesday that “Tangaraju was represented by legal counsel throughout the court process” and that “the evidence clearly showed that he was the person coordinating the delivery of drugs, for the purpose of trafficking.”

His execution is the first this year, after Singapore broke records in 2022 by hanging 11 prisoners in a few months, including a heroin trafficker with intellectual disabilities, which also sparked criticism from the international community and petitions for the island to review its approach.

But the city-state, whose regulatory effectiveness and support for innovation have elevated it as a regional financial center, shows off its strong hand against drug trafficking and other crimes in processes criticized by human rights groups for their opacity and inhumanity. Whipping and hanging are among its punitive methods.

“Singapore’s policies on drugs and the death penalty are derived from our own experience. Our approach has worked for us, and we will continue charting our own path according to what is in the best interests of Singaporeans,” the interior ministry statement read, issued in response to earlier criticism by British billionaire Richard Branson over Tangaraju’s case.

“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, civilized Singapore is just a mirage,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director, said, adding that the execution was “unacceptable.”

Tangaraju’s case also highlights the contrast between Singapore, which has one of the most draconian drug laws in the world and contemplates the death penalty for a minimum of 500 grams of marijuana trafficking, with the direction taken by neighboring countries, such as Thailand.

The country became the first in Southeast Asia to legalize the cultivation of marijuana for medical use in June, and since then there has been a fever around the cannabis business, with nearly 8,000 stores countrywide.

Malaysia last month repealed the mandatory death penalty, until then imposed without alternative for crimes such as drug trafficking, after years of taking steps in favor of its annulment.

“It is difficult to accept that, while more and more countries are adopting measures to regulate cannabis to keep users safe, we are in a country that not only jails and punishes people for cannabis-related offenses, but also wants to take our lives for it,” the NGO Transformative Justice Collective said on its website. EFE


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