This is the second time Richard Branson is speaking up for Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, a Malaysian Indian who was convicted of trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin in April 2009.
Richard Branson has joined a growing chorus of voices calling on Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob to use her pardon powers and spare Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s life.
Nagaenthran is a Malaysian Indian who was convicted of trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin in April 2009 upon entering Singapore from Malaysia at Woodlands Checkpoint with a bundle of heroin strapped to his thigh. Nagaenthran confessed to committing the crime, but gave statements claiming that he was ordered to commit the crime out of duress by a mastermind who assaulted him and threatened to kill his girlfriend. He also claimed he did so to get money to pay off his debts before he later denied any knowledge of the contents of his bundle.
Nagaenthran was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010. However, his execution was put on hold due to a moratorium placed on all hangings in Singapore pending judicial changes of the mandatory death penalty laws, which considered and approved the imposition of life imprisonment with or without caning for drug traffickers who were couriers or suffering from mental illnesses.
Nagaenthran tried to appeal to the courts to revoke his death sentence and instead re-sentence him to life imprisonment on the grounds of low IQ, mental impairment and his defence of duress and tried to challenge the prosecutors’ decision to not certify him as a courier, but his appeals were all dismissed.
Nagaenthran also lost his appeal for clemency, and he was finally scheduled to hang on 10 November 2021 after spending 11 years on death row. However, due to both a pending last-minute appeal and a positive test result of a COVID-19 infection, Nagaenthran’s execution is currently suspended until further notice.
Nagaenthran’s case attracted international attention, with many activists and foreign organizations asking for Singapore to commute Nagaenthran’s death sentence to life imprisonment due to his intellectual disability and overall, to abolish the death penalty while condemning Singapore for its use of the death penalty on drug traffickers.
The government of Singapore, in response to these pleas, explained that Nagaenthran was not substantially mentally or intellectually impaired despite his low IQ, and hence there was no basis for the government to intervene and commute Nagaenthran’s death sentence.
Saying Nagaenthran “doesn’t serve to die”, Branson explained, “No one is doubting what he did, but virtually everyone I have heard from agrees that he does not deserve to die, including Malaysia’s King and Prime Minister, a great number of human rights advocates, as well as more than 100,000 people who have signed a petition for the execution to be halted.”
“Naga’s ordeal tells us everything we need to know about the shortcomings of a system that believes killing people for drug offences, almost invariably vulnerable individuals at the lowest rungs of the illicit drug trade, will somehow deter crime and make communities safer. Singapore’s government has yet to show the world any evidence that it does. Yes, Singapore is a rather lovely, safe place, with low crime and a high quality of life. But so is Hong Kong, which abolished the death penalty in 1993. Correlation does not imply causation.”
Pointing out that the execution of an intellectually disabled man is not in line with international laws, Branson said “executing Naga would be a serious miscarriage of justice in violation of international human rights law and inconsistent with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – a convention Singapore has signed up to.”
He added, “(Singapore Government’s) pursuit of Naga’s execution against expert guidance, and against international norms, feels so out of character for a nation that prides itself in its commitment to the rule of law” and is “a serious stain on Singapore’s reputation”.
This is the second time Branson has appealed to stop the killing of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam. He did the same in November last year saying, “no matter where you stand, it’s cases like Nagaenthran’s that illustrate why the death penalty is broken beyond repair.”
He called on the President of Singapore, Madam Halimah Yacob, to “please spare (Nagaethran’s) life.”