Tangaraju Suppiah's Death Penalty Sparks Debate on Singapore's Legal System

Tangaraju Suppiah's Death Penalty Sparks Debate on Singapore's Legal System
An activist lights candles for death row inmate Tangaraju Suppiah during a vigil for him at a private office in Singapore on 26 April, EPA


Lone de Chene


Global Human Rights Defence.

On April 26 Tangaraju Suppiah, a Singaporean national, was executed for the trafficking of cannabis. The death penalty on its own is questionable under human rights law,  but to make matters worse, the execution of Tangaraju Suppiah was based on a conviction of weak evidence, without a fair trial.

Tangaraju was convicted of “abetting by engaging in a conspiracy to traffic” over the delivery of 1kg of cannabis from Malaysia to Singapore. However, there is no actual evidence of him delivering the drugs. Prosecutors said he was responsible for coordinating it, as proof, they traced two phone numbers used by a deliveryman back to Tangaraju. 

Apart from the weak evidence, Tangaraju was also not given access to an interpreter. As he did not have the funds to hire his own lawyer, he had to argue his last appeal on his own.

Singapore's laws relating to drug trafficking are exceptionally strict, according to Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry this is needed in keeping Singapore safe and secure. But the downside of the mandatory death penalty, is that judges are not allowed to take into consideration the circumstances of the crime, background of the defendant or other factors relating to the case. There really is no room for mitigation.

Because of the flaws in this case and the continued reliance on the mandatory death penalty, Amnesty International has declared that Singapore violated international human rights laws and standards. 

It is too late for Tangaraju, but his family continues to fight for reforms in Singapore’s legal system. His sister Leela declared to BBC: "If such an injustice happens to my brother, I wouldn't want it to happen to anybody else so I will continue to fight."

Sources and further readings:

Guinto, B. J. (2023, April 25). Tangaraju Suppiah: Singapore to execute man over cannabis charge. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-65345240

Amnesty International. (2023). Singapore: Arbitrary and unlawful execution for drug-related offence shows disregard for human rights. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/04/singapore-unlawfully-executes-national-for-drug-offences/