Leela (C), sister of death row inmate Tangaraju Suppiah, and family members Sinnapillai (L), Subhashini, (2-L), Thaadshayani (2-R), and Sharan (R), pose for a photo while holding a letter appealing for the President to grant him clemency during a press conference in Singapore, 23 April 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Singapore set to hang man for smuggling 1 kg of cannabis

By Paloma Almoguera

Singapore, Apr 25 (EFE).- With barely 24 hours remaining before the scheduled execution of Tangaragu Suppaiah on the charge of smuggling 1 kilogram of marijuana into Singapore, both the convict and his sister Leela have not lost hope of the sentence being commuted in a case widely flagged for irregularities.

“He has a lot of faith and his very hopeful of a presidential pardon saving his life. He remains positive,” Leela – who has visited her brother in the Changi prison every day since the execution date (Apr. 26) was announced last week – told EFE.

Tangaraju or “Appu” – as his family calls him – is a 46-year-old Tamil origin man who was sentenced to death in 2017 for being “complicit in a conspiracy to traffic” 1kg of marijuana from Malaysia to Singapore four years earlier.

The convict and his lawyers have insisted that he never saw or touched the contraband and was implicated by others over exchanges on phone whose content was not even presented in the trial.

Leela, sister of death row inmate Tangaraju Suppiah, wipes her tears while speaking during a press conference in Singapore, 23 April 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

A marijuana consumer since his adolescence, Appu grew up in a humble family and spent his youth getting in and out of juvenile homes and prisons, Leela said.

He was implicated in the case after being arrested for not showing up for a drug test while being out on bail.

“Even his lawyer advised him to not plead guilty, which would have reduced his sentence to 12 years in prison, after seeing that the evidence was so weak,” she lamented.

However, the strategy did not work, and the death sentence first handed to him in 2017 was upheld by another court in late 2022 after the last possible appeal.

Exhausted by her attempts to explore all the possible ways to stop the execution – including a clemency petition sent to President Halimah Yacob on Sunday – Leela maintained her brother’s innocence and implored for justice.

However, presidential pardons are rare in Singapore – the last being granted in 1998 in a murder case – according to the Transformative Justice Collective, a local nonprofit that advocates for the abolition of death penalty.

“We are accustomed to seeing acts of injustice, but this time we are in shock over the weak evidence and how easy it is to send someone to the gallows,” TJC spokesperson Kokila Annamalai told EFE.

Singapore has some of the world’s most draconian laws against drug use and trafficking, with smuggling of 500 grams or above of marijuana being punishable by death, which is in sharp contrast with the legalization of cannabis in several countries including neighboring Thailand.

Singapore authorities insist that the death penalty is an “essential component” of their judicial system and helps check drug consumption – an argument strongly contested by rights groups – and last year executed a record 11 people on drug trafficking charges.

Unless his sentence is commuted at the last minute, Tangaraju is set to become the first person to be executed in 2023.

Apart from the family and TJC, nonprofits such as Amnesty International and netizens including British billionaire Richard Branson have called for the commutation of his sentence.

“The death penalty has not stopped drug consumption in Singapore. Consumption is not a crime. Taking someone’s life for it is one,” Leela insisted. EFE