International human rights lawyer M Ravi recently spoke to ABC News Australia about Singapore’s recent “execution binge” after more and more people on death row have had their bids for clemency declined.
Mr Ravi is the lawyer representing the family of Malaysian drug mule Nagaenthran s/o k Dharmalingam. Nagaenthran was convicted in 2010 for trafficking not less than 42.72 grams of diamorphine into Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint in April 2009, and was subsequently sentenced to the death penalty. He had appealed against his conviction, but his appeal was subsequently dismissed by the Court of Appeal in Jul 2011.
One of the individual is Nagaenthran, who actually suffers from a mental illness or an intellectual disability. He has an IQ of 69, which deemed him as mentally impaired.
Looking at his situation, the family of the Malaysian has requested Mr Ravi to represent them in the hope that the lawyer can find other avenues to preserve the inmate’s life.
When asked if Malaysia has taken any steps to try an intervene in getting clemency, Mr Ravi said he presented a draft complaint to the Malaysian government “to file a complaint at the International Court of Justice, highlighting the several breaches in the international law, including the fact that a mentally ill person should not be executed”.
As such, he added that he is “quite hopeful that the Malaysian government will take this complaint seriously because Nagaenthran’s case is quite unique”.
During his interview, the lawyer was also asked what is the bar for mental impairment in Singapore and how will he argue his cases on this basis.
As a reply, Mr Ravi said that “in terms of mental impairment and whether the Singapore laws allow any avenue to setting aside death penalty, the answer is yes”.
He went on further to say that based on Singapore’s law, if someone is sentenced to death for drug trafficking, and if the individual suffers from mental impairment, then the person is qualified for re-sentenced to life in imprisonment.
However, the bar for mental impairment is very high in the Republic. Hypothetically, after Nagaenthran’s psychiatrist diagnosed him to suffer from mental impairment, he should be qualified for resentencing.
But, the state psychiatrist said that “his mental impairment is just a low IQ of 69 and it does not impair his mental responsibility”, the lawyer explained.
Although the threshold in Singapore’s law is very high to qualify one for mental impairment, but the international law would qualify the Malaysian to mitigate the death penalty.
In 2005, Australian Van Tuong Nguyen was executed after being convicted of carrying 400 grams of heroin through Changi Airport, which created an outcry in Australia.
Post his execution, Mr Ravi said that in 2012, the mandatory death sentence law was amended which allowed judges some discretion.
“The judges who exercise their discretion is in fact the Attorney General or rather the Public Prosecutor who gives a certificate of cooperation. The one who qualifies for the certificate will then be entitled to be resentenced to court, which point in time the judge can then exercise their discretion. So there is an improvement, but we would say it’s now a partial mandatory death penalty,” Mr Ravi explained.
Asked if the mandatory death sentences for drug trafficking has proven a deterrent, the lawyer said it has not as Singapore had executed 13 people in 2018, and 10 to 13 people are waiting for execution this year.
In fact, he added that the “Singapore government has not done any studies until today to show that death penalty deters drug trafficking”.
If that is not all, the city-state is also unpopular at the international arena due to their stand for death penalty. This is because Mr Ravi said that Singapore took a very strong stand at the United Nations General Assembly in “opposing any form of resolution for a moratorium on death penalty”.