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Executed for cannabis — Is Singapore’s latest execution the harshest in history?

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

MAY 7 — On the 26th of April 2023, Tangaraju Suppiah was hanged from his neck until he died. The sentence was carried out at Changi prison where all of Singapore’s post-independence executions have been carried out.

Suppiah paid the ultimate price for trafficking approximately one kilogram of cannabis. His family protested his innocence but he was convicted and executed nonetheless.

The question here, however, goes beyond innocence and guilt. Beyond the fundamental validity of the death penalty and whether the state has the right to take lives — the real question here is whether someone’s life should be extinguished for trafficking cannabis.

In a world where more and more countries have legalised the substance, and it is even available as a recreational drug in neighbouring nations, the sentence seems extraordinary.

Virtually no nations today, not even those with notoriously strict anti-narcotic legislation, like the UAE and China execute people for cannabis-related offences. Even historically, executions for cannabis trafficking are scarcely documented.

In a world where more and more countries have legalised the substance, and it is even available as a recreational drug in neighbouring nations, the sentence seems extraordinary. — Shutterstock pic via ETX Studio
In a world where more and more countries have legalised the substance, and it is even available as a recreational drug in neighbouring nations, the sentence seems extraordinary. — Shutterstock pic via ETX Studio

In a world where more and more countries have legalised the substance, and it is even available as a recreational drug in neighbouring nations, the sentence seems extraordinary. — Shutterstock pic via ETX Studio

It’s hard to fathom on any level how cannabis could be the subject of a death penalty considering the argument for the death penalty in cases of narcotic trafficking is that drugs can kill and cause critical harm to society and so the death penalty is a valid deterrent.

But there is little evidence that recreational cannabis use is deadly — which is why it is increasingly legal around the world.

If the drug in question doesn’t cause deaths, why kill people for selling it? Surely a lengthy prison sentence would have been more appropriate in this case if the point was he broke the law.

Taking someone’s life for carrying just one kilogram of cannabis seems astonishing, especially when one can easily obtain and smoke cannabis near-effortlessly in countries such as the United States and Australia.

Personally, I struggle to understand the logic of this sentence — the punishment does not appear to fit the crime. Last year, Nagendran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man, was executed in Singapore for trafficking heroin.

The case drew considerable outcry as many felt Nagendran was mentally challenged and unable to understand his crime or sentence. There were pleas for his release, and the case drew global interest.

It is worth noting that Suppiah was a local Indian man from a poor background. It is striking that men from vulnerable and poor backgrounds seem to comprise a large number of those executed for drug offenses in Singapore.

Surely if we are going to execute people for trafficking drugs, it’s the high-ranking individuals who should be lined up for execution?

It’s baffling and shocking too that the outcry has been so muted. Perhaps, like me, many people find it difficult to believe that such a thing could happen.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.