Despite calls for clemency from his family, activists, and the United Nations, Singapore executed a man for his involvement in conspiring to traffic cannabis. Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, was hanged at dawn on Wednesday over a plot to smuggle 1kg (35oz) of cannabis.
While activists have claimed that he had been convicted on weak evidence and received limited legal access during his prosecution, Singapore authorities have maintained that he had been given a fair trial and criticized those who questioned the courts.
Singapore has some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, arguing that these are a necessary deterrent to drug crime, which is a major issue elsewhere across South-East Asia. Last year, Singapore hanged 11 people, all on drugs charges, including an intellectually impaired man convicted of trafficking three tablespoons of heroin. The nation’s stringent drug laws and use of capital punishment put it increasingly at odds with advanced nations and others in the region, activists say.
In Tangaraju Suppiah’s last appeal, the judge agreed with the prosecution that he had been responsible for co-ordinating the delivery, which made him ineligible for a more lenient sentence.
Activists had raised concerns that he had not been given adequate access to a Tamil interpreter and had been forced to represent himself at his last appeal because his family was unable to secure a lawyer. Singapore authorities say he requested an interpreter only during the trial, and not earlier.
They also said he had access to legal counsel throughout the process.
Supporters had also petitioned Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob for a reprieve, while British activist billionaire Sir Richard Branson added his voice to those calling for a case review.
The UN’s Human Rights Office had on Tuesday also called on Singapore to “urgently reconsider” the execution, saying the death penalty violated international norms. However, Singapore’s courts on Tuesday had rejected a last-minute appeal from Tangaraju Suppiah’s family against his conviction.
Singapore’s law mandates the death penalty for those guilty of trafficking narcotics – including cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and ketamine – beyond a certain quantity. Cannabis has been decriminalized in many parts of the world, including in neighboring Thailand, where its trade is encouraged.
Local activist group the Transformative Justice Collective said, “It is just illogical to know that countries nearby are enjoying cannabis in food and beverages and using it for its medical benefits, while our country is executing people for the very same substance.”
Sir Richard, who had previously criticized the 2022 execution of intellectually impaired Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, said the latest case was “shocking on multiple levels.” In a blog post on Monday, he said Singapore “may be about to kill an innocent man” on the back of “more than dubious circumstances.”
Rebutting his allegations, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry accused him of “disrespect for Singapore’s judges and our criminal justice system.” It said the death penalty was “an essential component” in a multi-pronged approach that had been “effective in keeping Singapore safe and secure.”
Tangaraju Suppiah’s case marked the country’s first execution this year. Singapore is one of 35 countries and territories in the world that sentence people to death for drug crimes, according to Harm Reduction International (HRI), a non-profit, non-government organization. It is also considered a “high application” country, where at least 10 executions have been carried out in the past five years.
The US and South Korea are the only two OECD member countries that have retained the death penalty for drug offenses, but they have not carried out such executions in the last five years, according to HRI.