Singapore Hangs Man for Conspiring to Traffic 2 Pounds of Cannabis

Singapore on Wednesday executed a man convicted of conspiring to traffic about two pounds of cannabis, a punishment that human rights groups called grossly excessive with other countries around the world relaxing their stances on marijuana.

The man, Tangaraju Suppiah, a 46-year-old Singaporean, was sentenced in 2018 for coordinating with two other men to import the cannabis in 2013. Although he never came into contact with the drug, he was sentenced to death by hanging after a judge ruled that he was linked to the other men through two phone numbers belonging to him.

Singapore’s narcotics laws are some of the harshest in the world and mandate the death penalty for some drug trafficking offenses. Last year, the country executed 11 people, all for nonviolent drug offenses.

Singapore has continued to use executions for drug-related crimes even though its neighbor and rival, Malaysia, recently ended its mandatory death penalty for serious crimes, including drug offenses.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the sentence was “outrageous and unacceptable” and “raises serious concerns that Singapore is launching a renewed spree to empty its death row in a misguided deterrence effort that actually reveals more about Singapore’s barbarity than anything else.”

Kirsten Han, a death penalty opponent, said that Mr. Tangaraju’s execution showed that Singapore had prioritized “looking tough on crime” over enacting more effective policies to reduce harm from drugs.

Activists said the evidence against Mr. Tangaraju — the numbers on the phones of the other two men — was largely circumstantial. Human rights organizations also raised concerns that Mr. Tangaraju did not have access to a lawyer when he was first questioned by the authorities — Singaporean law does not guarantee any such right — and was denied access to a Tamil interpreter when the police took his statement.

Supporters and relatives of Mr. Tangaraju, including his sister, center, delivered an appeal to Singapore’s president on Sunday to stop the execution. Credit…How Hwee Young/EPA, via Shutterstock

Before the execution, the United Nations’ top human rights official called for the authorities to “urgently reconsider” the sentence.

“We have concerns around due process and respect for fair trial guarantees,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

The Singaporean authorities dismissed those concerns, saying that Mr. Tangaraju had been afforded due process. In a statement issued before his execution, the country’s Central Narcotics Bureau said that he “had access to legal counsel throughout the process.” It also said that a judge had found his claim of being denied an interpreter to be “disingenuous,” because he had not asked for an interpreter when giving subsequent statements to the authorities.

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

The other two men connected to the case both gave evidence against Mr. Tangaraju at his trial. One of them, who was arrested with the cannabis in question, pleaded guilty to trafficking 499.9 grams of the drug — just below the 500 grams, or 1.1 pounds, that would draw the death penalty — and was sentenced to 23 years in prison and 15 strokes of the cane. The other received a discharge not amounting to acquittal.

Mr. Tangaraju’s family campaigned for clemency until his execution, issuing video appeals and writing letters to Singapore’s president, Halimah Yacob. On Tuesday, a Singaporean court rejected a last-minute appeal from the family.

“His family said they weren’t going to give up on him until the very last moment,” said Ms. Han, the anti-death-penalty activist, who spoke to Mr. Tangaraju’s family after the execution. “It was important to them that they kept trying to fight for him.”

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