Singaporean activist and human rights lawyer raise concerns over impending execution amid troubling case detail

Singaporean activist and human rights lawyer raise concerns over impending execution amid troubling case detail

Kokila Annamalai, a Singaporean activist, recently took to Facebook to share the distressing news of the scheduled execution of Tangaraju Suppiah, who was convicted in 2017 for abetting an attempt to traffic cannabis into Singapore.

Ms Annamalai’s post detailed the troubling aspects of the case, urging the public to take notice and protest Suppiah’s execution, scheduled for next Wednesday, 26 April.

In her Facebook post, Ms Annamalai wrote, “8 years after his arrest, Tangaraju continues to maintain his innocence.”

She highlighted that the 46-year-old Singaporean was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty despite never handling the drugs he was convicted of trafficking.

The court found him guilty based on circumstantial evidence, including his alleged ownership of phone numbers connected to the drug delivery.

“The prosecution relied on a statement he gave to an inspector without any counsel. Tangaraju told the court that he had asked for a Tamil interpreter for the recorded statement, but this was denied. For this reason, he said he was unable to fully understand the statement when read to him. He said he had informed the inspector about this. He also said that he informed the inspector that he had lost his phone, but this was not in his statement. The court chose to believe the inspector, who testified that if such a thing had happened, she would have amended the statement immediately.”

Ms Annamalai emphasized the lack of legal representation during Suppiah’s police interrogation: “As in most capital cases, Tangaraju was interrogated by the police without the presence of a lawyer. The prosecution relied on a statement he gave to an inspector without any counsel.”

Suppiah’s request for a Tamil interpreter was denied, and he stated that he could not fully understand the statement when it was read to him.

Despite his insistence on his innocence and filing a Criminal Motion on his own, the Court of Appeal dismissed his case in February 2023.

“Death row prisoners, their family members and abolitionists have been holding our breath for the past 6 months, terrified of when the killing spree will begin again. We will fight for Tangaraju till the end, and for all the other men and women who wake up every day to the unspeakable horror that they have been sentenced to hang to death at the hands of the state,” said Ms Annamalai.

Suppiah’s sister, Ms Leela Vathy, received news that her brother was sentenced to prison, and she is determined to do everything she can to help him, despite struggling to find lawyers who could assist. She has visited him in prison with her family.

Human rights lawyer M Ravi, who represented Suppiah in the past, commented on the case in a separate statement.

He said, “Yesterday I heard the devastating news of my former client Tangaraju that he will be hanged next Wednesday, 26th April.”

Mr Ravi described the challenging legal environment surrounding death penalty cases, mentioning the financial penalties and a five-year suspension he faced after saving another death row inmate, Gobi Avedian.

Gobi’s case is the first death penalty in Singapore to be successfully reopened and a death sentence set aside after a concluded appeal where all avenues have been closed.

In response to the judgement to set aside Gob’s death penalty, Mr Ravi noted that ‘one of the disturbing things” was the fact that the Court of Appeal highlighted how the Prosecution ran a different case at trial and on appeal, which calls into question the fairness of the administration of justice in Gobi’s case by the prosecution.

In his Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Ravi called for reform in the legal system, stating, “If you want to kill and take a person’s life, make sure you have safeguards. I saved Gobi’s life at a huge personal cost… this should not be the case.”

He also highlighted the vulnerability of the poor and marginalized in death penalty cases, particularly due to the lack of proper representation.

“Gobi’s case has already shown that the judicial system is prone to judicial error and he was on the verge of death if not for the last-minute application which was strongly resisted by the AG.”

“Tangaraju’s case is another illustration of how the poor, oppressed and marginalised are vulnerable in the death penalty trap without PROPER REPRESENTATION.”

“Lawyers are now afraid to even come near such last-minute cases for fear of cost orders and disciplinary actions that might threaten their rice bowl. They often cite my case and ask is it worth it?” asks Mr Ravi.

Suppiah’s scheduled execution is the first in six months since Singapore executed 11 inmates last year.

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