A Singapore court on Tuesday stayed the execution of a 33-year-old Indian-origin Malaysian man, convicted for drug trafficking after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam was to be hanged at Changi Prison for drug trafficking on Wednesday. Singapore's High Court on Monday suspended his scheduled execution until an appeal is heard during an online hearing.
Dharmalingam, who has been on death row for 11 years, was ushered in briefly into the dock at the Court of Appeal for the hearing of a last-ditch appeal against his death sentence, Channel News Asia reported. However, he was later taken away, and a judge informed the court that Nagaenthran had tested positive for COVID-19.
Justice Andrew Phang, who appeared with fellow judges Judith Prakash and Kannan Ramesh, said, "this is rather unexpected". He said the court was of the view that it was not appropriate to proceed, "given the circumstances". "The execution is scheduled for tomorrow," said Justice Phang.
"... If the applicant has been afflicted by COVID-19 ... it's our view that the execution cannot take place anyway," the judge said. The prosecution said they only just heard of the development and needed to take instructions. "I think here, we have to use logic, common sense, and humanity," said Justice Phang. He adjourned the hearing to a date yet to be fixed and issued a stay of the execution until proceedings are concluded.
Lawyer M Ravi had taken up Nagaenthran's case at the eleventh hour, ahead of his scheduled hanging on Wednesday. His court application on Monday for a judicial review of the case on grounds of Nagaenthran's purported mental disability was dismissed, but the judge granted a temporary stay of his execution until after Ravi appealed against the dismissal.
The case was fast-tracked and the appeal set to be heard in the highest court on Tuesday afternoon, with a packed courtroom including foreign media and local activists.
Ravi was seen hugging a fellow counsel after the stay of execution was announced, according to a Channel News Asia report. No other details of when Nagaenthran tested positive for COVID-19 were given, according to the Channel.
Nagaenthran was sentenced to death in 2010 for importing 42.72g of heroin into Singapore in 2009 in a bundle strapped to his thigh. He failed in his appeals to the High Court in 2011, to the Apex Court in 2019, and in his petition to the president for clemency.
The case drew international attention as Nagaenthran's impending execution neared, with an online petition against his death sentence drawing about 70,000 signatures as of Tuesday, and coverage by international media.
Malaysia's prime minister wrote to his Singapore counterpart on the matter, and human rights groups, as well as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, also weighed in on the issue.