Tangaraju Suppiah: Singapore executes man for trafficking two pounds of cannabis


A Singaporean man convicted of trying to smuggle some 2.2 pounds of cannabis was hanged on Wednesday, a sentence criticized by rights groups and campaigners for its severity at a time when many other countries, including neighboring countries, have banned drugs. Has taken a more lenient view towards the death penalty.

While an increasing number of countries around the world have legalized cannabis, Singapore maintains some of the harshest drug laws in the world and its government is adamant that the death penalty serves to deter drug traffickers and must remain in place to maintain public safety.

The Singapore Prison Service said in a brief statement that Singapore’s 46-year-old Tangaraju Suppaiah was executed at Changi Prison on Wednesday.

His sister Lilavati Supaiah told CNN that her brother had been hanged and the family had received a death certificate. It was Singapore’s first execution in six months.

In the days before Tangaraju was executed, family members and activists made public appeals for clemency and questioned the safety of his sentence. The European Union’s office in the city-state and the United Nations’ human rights office also called on Singapore not to execute him.

According to a statement by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), Tangaraju was sentenced to death in 2018 for “promoting the trafficking of cannabis exceeding one kilogram (1,017.9 grams)”. The court found that he had been talking on the phone with two other men caught trying to smuggle cannabis into Singapore.

The CNB said previous appeals against his conviction and death sentence were rejected by courts in 2019, while presidential clemency petitions were also unsuccessful.

Describing the death penalty as “part of Singapore’s comprehensive harm prevention strategy”, the CNB statement said, “Tangaraju was given full due process under the law and had access to legal counsel throughout the process.”

Family members and rights groups have taken up Tangaraju’s case and rejected the government’s claims and detailed why they believe his death sentence was unsafe.

Amnesty International said, “Tangaraju’s conviction rests primarily on the statements of his police interrogators – without a lawyer and interpreter present – ​​and the testimony of two of his co-accused, one of whom denied his charges.” Was.”

“In countries that have not yet abolished this punishment, international safeguards require that the death penalty be imposed only when the guilt of the accused person is based on clear and convincing evidence and leaves no room for alternative explanations of the facts.” – and following a legal process that provides all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial,” Amnesty said.

Tangaraju’s sister Lilavati spoke of her brother’s anguish and determination before he was executed.

Tangaraju's sister Lilavati at a press conference in Singapore on April 23, 2023.

“Even from inside prison, he wanted to fight for his innocence,” she told CNN. “He believed there would be a fair trial and wanted to prove his innocence – every step of the way.”

The Transformative Justice Collective (TJC), a local abolitionist movement, highlighted “serious problems” with the evidence used to convict Tangaraju, describing it as “shockingly thin”.

“The case against Tangaraju is largely circumstantial and based on conjectures,” the TJC said in a series of statements.

“He never touched the cannabis he was accused of attempting to traffic. He was linked to the crime by two phone numbers found on the mobile phones of two people arrested by the CNB – one of whom Was used to coordinate cannabis distribution.

“By the time Tangaraju was linked to this case, he was already on remand for a different offense – and his mobile phones were never recovered,” the group said.

Last year, Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis after years of campaigning by grassroots activists.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s closest neighbor Malaysia passed sweeping legal reforms earlier this month to remove the mandatory death penalty and reduce the number of crimes, including drug offences, punishable by death – by rights defenders. A welcome step.

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Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, told CNN, “It is particularly outrageous that Tangaraju was arrested, convicted and executed for a cannabis-related crime, when much of the world is in favor of cannabis legalization.” moving forward with.”

Robertson said, “Sentencing him to death also shows how far Singapore has fallen from Malaysia – its leaders like to claim that their country is more modern and developed but in terms of criminal justice and the death penalty Singapore is clearly lagging behind.” ,

“Once again, Singapore shows that they are completely out of step with basic concepts of human rights, criminal punishment and proportionality in justice,” Robertson said.

But the Singapore government continues to resist calls for reform, carrying out eleven executions last year alone, all for drug-related trafficking offences.

Under the law, anyone caught smuggling, importing or exporting certain quantities of illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or cannabis products, faces a mandatory death penalty.

“Singapore takes a zero-tolerance stance against drugs and implements a multi-pronged approach to combat drugs,” the Home Ministry said in a statement in response to international criticism of Tangaraju’s hanging.

“The death penalty is an essential component of Singapore’s criminal justice system and has been effective in keeping Singapore safe and secure.”

The Home Ministry also rejected criticisms made by rights groups, arguing that the case against Tangaraju was “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” and that the evidence “clearly shows that he was involved in the distribution of drugs”. Was the person coordinating, smuggling for the purpose.

The ministry’s statement was published in response to foreign criticism of Tangaraju’s impending execution, including from British billionaire Richard Branson, a vocal opponent of the death penalty.

“Executing people for allegedly trafficking cannabis is especially cruel and misguided, given that more countries are now decriminalizing and regulating both medicinal and recreational cannabis,” Branson wrote in a blog on his company’s website. Introducing a sensible drug policy.”

Australian MP Graham Perret also said that Tangaraju’s execution “violated international law standards”. Perret, a member of the Labor Party, wrote on Facebook: “Imagine being hanged by the neck until you die over a little weed.”

“As is the case with many people currently on death row in Singapore, Tangaraju was compelled to represent himself to review the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold his sentence. Country of Law Singapore has a strong reputation as a global economy, so it is not unusual to be concerned with defaults,” Perret said.

The EU delegation in Singapore also called on the authorities to halt the executions.

“The European Union and our country strongly oppose the use of the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances, which can never be justified – and call for a moratorium on all executions as a positive first step towards its abolition advocate for Singapore,” Block said in a statement.
The UN rights office said it had “concerns about due process and respect for guarantees of a fair trial”.
“The death penalty is still used in some countries, mainly because of the myth that it deters crime. Growing evidence, however, shows it is ineffective as a deterrent,” spokeswoman Raveena Shamdasani said in a statement.