Singapore executes Indian-origin cannabis trafficker despite pleas for clemency

Singapore: Singapore on Wednesday executed a 46-year-old Indian-origin drug trafficker, ignoring pleas for clemency from his family, human rights activists and the United Nations.

Tangaraju Suppiah was hanged at dawn in Changi Prison, a day after his 11th-hour appeal was rejected by a court here.

He was convicted in October 2018 by a High Court judge of a capital charge of abetting an accomplice by conspiring to traffic cannabis. This was by delivering about 1kg of cannabis to himself, an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The Singaporean of Indian origin was detained in 2014 for drug consumption and failure to report for a drug test.

A statement by the Singapore Prison Service said that Tangaraju “had his capital sentence carried out today at Changi Prison Complex”.

Tangaraju’s sister Leelavathy Suppiah said the family had received a death certificate. It was Singapore’s first execution in six months.

Tangaraju’s case had drawn support from British billionaire Richard Branson and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, on Tuesday, urged the Singapore government to “urgently reconsider this (Tangaraju’s) execution and to take steps to fully respect the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life.” Branson had claimed in a blog post that Tangaraju’s conviction did not meet standards and that “Singapore may be about to kill an innocent man”.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Tuesday that Branson’s views regarding a Singaporean on death row showed “disrespect” for the country’s judges and criminal justice system.

Anti-death penalty activist Kirsten Han tweeted on Wednesday, “Tangaraju was hanged in Changi Prison this morning.” She added that his family was given the death certificate.

“The family said they weren’t going to give up on him until right to the end,” Han was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“They still have a lot of unresolved questions about his case and the evidence against him. It has been such a harrowing experience for them,” the activist said.

Statements were also issued by the Delegation of the European Union to Singapore and Australian MP Graham Perrett.

The EU statement, jointly issued on Monday with the diplomatic missions of EU member states, Norway and Switzerland in Singapore, called on authorities to halt Tangaraju’s execution and commute his sentence to a non-capital sentence.

Perrett had expressed his views in a Facebook post last Thursday, saying he was “concerned that the planned execution of Tangaraju violates international law standards”, Channel News Asia reported.

A court in Singapore dismissed an application by Tangaraju on Tuesday to have his case reviewed and for his execution to be stayed, according to the report.

In a 15-page judgment, Justice Chong explained that Tangaraju had failed to show a legitimate basis for the court to review his case.

Tangaraju was sentenced to death after failing to fulfil any of the criteria that would free him from death row.

He later appealed against his conviction and sentence but it was dismissed in August 2019, with the court agreeing that Tangaraju had conspired to traffic in cannabis and that he had used a phone to communicate with his accomplice, Mogan Valo.

Tangaraju filed a criminal motion in November 2022 for permission to apply to review the concluded appeal.

The court dismissed this as well in February 2023.

In his last bid, Tangaraju, who was self-represented, argued that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he and Mogan had an agreement to traffic the specific quantity of 1017.9g of cannabis.

However, Justice Chong said it was never Tangaraju’s case at trial that the agreement with Mogan was to traffic an amount below the threshold amount for capital punishment or any lesser quantity.

“It thus appears that the applicant is essentially seeking to advance an entirely new argument,” the report quoted Justice Chong as saying.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said on Saturday that Tangaraju’s petition to President Halimah Yacob for clemency was unsuccessful.

The CNB said that capital punishment is used only for “the most serious crimes”, such as the trafficking of significant quantities of drugs that cause very serious harm, not just to individual drug abusers but also to their families and society at large.

“Capital punishment is part of Singapore’s comprehensive harm prevention strategy which targets both drug demand and supply,” the bureau said.