On April 26, Singaporean authorities at Changi prison executed Singaporean Tamil national Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, who was purportedly involved in the trafficking of 1 kilogram of cannabis—a crime that his family believes he is innocent of committing.
The date was confirmed by Singapore Prison Service, and his execution was the first case of capital punishment to take place in the Southeast Asian country this year. Singapore enforces some of the harshest drug laws on the planet and has faced immense pressure from all corners to banish the death penalty—a judicial law that claimed the lives of 11 people in 2021.
Last year, when the government resumed capital punishment after the COVID-19 pandemic, hordes of protesters descended on the streets and fought against the law to no avail. After a two-year break, Singapore’s death penalty was reinforced in early 2022. Two methamphetamine smugglers, Singaporean national Roslan bin Bakar and Malaysian national Pausi bin Jefridin, were the first to be hanged once executions resumed.
The Facts About Tangaraju’s Case
Tangaraju fell under the long arm of the law after being convicted of abetting by participating in the trafficking of 1,017.9 grams of cannabis in 2017. In December of the following year, he was sentenced to the death penalty. The man was initially arrested in March 2014 after Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau arrested two men they suspected of maintaining connections with him.
After tracing phone numbers used to communicate with the drug delivery man, the court discovered that Tangaraju’s contact information matched up to not only one but two phone numbers. According to the prosecution, Suppiah was expected to be on the receiving end of the drug parcel.
Mr. Tangaraju claimed that, in the absence of a lawyer, the police interrogated him. He argued that his statement was used as evidence against him and that the inspector failed to include a critical fact in his statement—that he had lost his phone in 2013. Tangaraju also informed the court that he was denied a Tamil interpreter during the interrogation.
“I do not know about this. I am not involved in this thing,” was the desperate inmate’s response at his conviction hearing when the judge read charges being held against him. Prior to his execution, his family members and advocates attempted to overturn the conviction.
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“The family is looking for a lawyer who will defend his innocence,” said a senior founding member at Singapore’s Transformative Justice Collective, Kokila Annamalai. “He still maintains his innocence, and the family believes him. He is also appealing for some of the evidence that was not disclosed to him—like certain call records, statements, and he wants that evidence to be disclosed to him.”
“The authorities must immediately halt the impending execution of Tangaraju s/o Suppiah. Executions violate the right to life and are the ultimate cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. They must never be imposed for drug offenses under international law,” read a statement from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Asia and the Pacific.
Medical Cannabis in Singapore Is Permitted Under Some Circumstances
Over the last few years, the outlook for medical cannabis in Singapore has become much brighter. Despite access restrictions, the government has taken a more relaxed stance towards the usage of medicinal cannabis across the country, which is known for being one of the world’s busiest ports.
However, cannabis is usually only considered as a last resort after all other treatment options have been exhausted. As of 2021, just two Singaporeans with treatment-resistant epilepsy have been approved to use medicinal cannabis in the form of Epidiolex.
On Jan. 10, 2018, Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) declared that it would be producing synthetic medicinal cannabinoids with the primary focus of treating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and various other debilitating diseases.
The proposed plan is included as part of a S$25 million ($19 million) investment by the NRF into synthetic biology. Researchers are hopeful that the initiative will amplify the rate at which the country develops a bio-based economy, one that could be capitalized on for the expansion of new industries and sustainable job creation.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t change the fact that someone can face a maximum of 10 years behind bars for consuming or possessing cannabis in Singapore, in addition to possible caning and/or a $20,000 fine. These rules are outlined in the Misuse of Drugs Act, which also stipulates that the import, export, or trafficking of cannabis in Singapore may result in the death penalty.
Last year, an intellectually impaired Malaysian man named Nagaenthran Dharmalingam paid the ultimate penalty after being caught with three tablespoons of heroin in 2009. He had an IQ of 69 and had been stuck on death row since 2010.