A Singaporean man convicted of trying to traffic around 2.2 pounds of cannabis was executed on Wednesday, a sentence lambasted by rights groups and campaigners for its severity at a time when many other nations, including neighboring countries, have adopted a more lenient approach towards drugs and capital punishment.
While cannabis has been legalized in a growing number of nations worldwide, Singapore maintains some of the world’s harshest drug laws and its government remains adamant that capital punishment works to deter drug traffickers and must remain in place to maintain public safety.
Tangaraju Suppiah, a 46-year-old Singaporean, was put to death on Wednesday in Changi Prison, Singapore Prison Service said in a brief statement.His sister Leelavathy Suppiah told CNN that her brother had been hanged and that the family had received a death certificate. It was Singapore’s first execution in six months.
In the days leading up to Tangaraju being sent to the gallows, family members and activists made public appeals for clemency and questioned the safety of his conviction. The European Union’s office in the city state and a United Nations’ rights office had also called for Singapore not to carry out his hanging.
Tangaraju was sentenced to death in 2018 for “abetting the trafficking of more than one kilogram of cannabis (1,017.9 grams),” according to a statement from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB). The court found he was in phone communication with two other men caught trying to smuggle cannabis into Singapore.
Previous appeals against his conviction and death sentence were dismissed by the courts in 2019 while petitions for presidential clemency were also unsuccessful, CNB added. “Tangaraju was accorded full due process under the law and had access to legal counsel throughout the process,” CNB’s statement said while describing capital punishment as “part of Singapore’s comprehensive harm prevention strategy.”
The Transformative Justice Collective (TJC), a local abolitionist movement, highlighted what they said were “serious problems” with evidence used to convict Tangaraju, describing it as “shockingly thin.”
“The case against Tangaraju is largely circumstantial and based on inferences,” TJC said in a series of statements.“Tangaraju was already in remand for a separate offense by the time he was linked to this case – and his mobile phones were never recovered for analysis,” the group added.
Last year Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis. But the Singapore government has continued to resist calls for reform, carrying out eleven executions last year alone, all for drug-related trafficking offenses.
Under the law, anyone caught trafficking, importing or exporting certain quantities of illegal drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or cannabis products
The European Union’s delegation to Singapore also called on authorities to halt the execution. “The EU and our countries strongly oppose the use of capital punishment at all times and in all circumstances, which can never be justified – and advocate for Singapore to adopt a moratorium on all executions as a positive first step towards its abolition,” the block said in a statement.
The UN’s rights office said it had “concerns around due process and respect for fair trial guarantees”.
“The death penalty is still being used in a small number of countries, largely because of the myth that it deters crime. Increasing evidence, however, shows it is ineffective as a deterrent,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.