Singapore Court to rule on misconduct suit that could hang or acquit Malaysians on death row

·5-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — Singapore’s Court of Appeal will deliver its verdict today on whether the island republic’s Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and Prison Authorities committed a serious procedural breach in the investigation process involving a dozen plaintiffs who were convicted of trafficking narcotics and sentenced to death, as well as another for murder.

Three of the appellants are Malaysian nationals: Ipoh-born Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, and Johor Baru natives Datchinamurthy Kataiah and Saminathan Selvaraju.

Pannir was convicted in 2017 and had his subsequent appeal rejected the following year. Datchinamurthy was convicted in 2015 and had been scheduled to be executed last year. The third Malaysian, Saminathan, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2018.

Pannir and Datchinamurthy have outstanding warrants for their execution but the only thing standing between them and their imminent death is an ongoing appeal that will be heard today — an appeal that argues their private communications with their lawyers were leaked to Singapore’s AGC without their knowledge or consent. A death warrant has yet to be issued for Saminathan.

Singapore’s High Court previously ruled that the leak was merely an oversight on the part of AGC that was “not malicious”. The Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network (Adpan), a network of organisations and individuals that is campaigning to abolish capital punishment, said the ruling could have a significant bearing on all the cases, with possible acquittals.

“The best case? They’ll have a breakdown for partial rehearing to validate whether the decision significantly impacts current sentences,” said Jia Vern Tham, Adpan coordinator.

“But because these are mandatory death sentences — for cases of folks where the decision is found to have significant influence over their sentences, they might be acquitted outright.”

The appeal hearing comes just over a week after the Singaporean authorities executed a man accused of coordinating cannabis deliveries, a case that had again reignited international scrutiny on the island republic’s strict anti-drug policy.

Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, was sentenced to death in 2018 for abetting the trafficking of one kilogram of cannabis. He was executed last Wednesday despite pleas for clemency from his family and protests from activists that he was convicted on weak evidence.

During his trial, Tangaraju’s defence lawyers argued that the accused was not caught with the cannabis, but prosecutors said phone numbers traced him as the person responsible for coordinating the delivery of the drugs, AFP reported. Tangaraju had maintained that he was not the one communicating with the others connected to the case.

Malay Mail has reported extensively on Pannir’s case.

Pannir was initially scheduled to be executed in May 2019, but Singapore’s apex court granted him a reprieve to seek legal advice on whether he could mount a successful challenge against his sentencing.

His application to start judicial review proceedings was dismissed in February the next year and in November 2021, he failed again to start a court challenge against his death sentence.

His family argued Pannir deserves clemency because he helped provide information that led to the arrest of a drug mule recruiter.

Under Section 33B(2)(a)(i) of Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, drug couriers can be exempt from the death penalty if two conditions are met: that the convicted person manages to prove that his role was only limited to transporting, sending or delivering a controlled drug, and if Singapore’s public prosecutor certifies to the court that the accused person had “substantively assisted” Singapore’s anti-drug agency Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.

Adpan said Pannir’s conviction was despite the court being made aware that he is merely a drug courier. Pannir was also denied the “certificate of substantive assistance” even after he shared information his lawyers said were crucial to the arrest of a trafficking recruiter. Datchinamurthy was also a drug courier. In his defence, he claimed he did not know that he was delivering banned substances.

Both were charged and convicted for trafficking diamorphine, another name for heroin.

The two are among 13 plaintiffs who are attempting legal proceedings against Singapore’s attorney general and/or its officers or agents for, among others, a tortious claim and/or disciplinary proceedings premised on a breach of professional duties and a duty of care to safeguard the plaintiffs’ rights.

Tham said the leaked confidential correspondence had “undeniably” given the Singapore government more “leverage” against the accused “especially when the city-state has a history of leaving death row prisoners to fend for themselves in court.”

“Every person has a fundamental right to be able to communicate with their lawyers in private, no matter the context. No government — especially not the AGC who has a vested interest in the matter — should be given any opportunity to violate this right,” the Adpan coordinator said.

Pannir and Datchinamurthy’s next of kin are hopeful about today’s appeal but said the fight to get them exempted from the death penalty has weighed on their mental health, more so after revelations about the leaked private correspondence.

“The families felt that there are many queries and uncertainties surrounding the decision-making process with regards to death penalty punishment,” Sangkari, one of Pannir’s sisters, asked.

“Why are the papers of inmates being shared without their consent? Why is the only privilege of saving their own life being taken away from them?”

Sathirani, Datchinamurthy’s sister, said her family feels “trapped” and “depressed” by the uncertainty of what’s to come.

“The dreadful and traumatic thought of what might happen keeps us up at night, worrying incessantly about the case. and if the worst comes to pass, why is the clemency avenue even an option if it’s never being used?

“It’s disheartening that neither the president nor the government has shown any empathy or consideration towards the entitlement of clemency in recent times.”

The families are now seeking help to raise funds for legal defence and advocacy work in Singapore.

Five Malaysians have been executed for drug law offences in Singapore in the last decade, with nine more currently on death row.

Last year, after the hanging of Nazeri Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national, the United Nations issued a strong statement calling for the island state to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug-related charges.

The world body noted there had been a sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore in 2022 amid growing international criticism of its persistence to keep capital punishment.