Singapore said it executed a man convicted of smuggling 1kg (2.2 pounds) of cannabis into the country, despite renewed criticism of its death penalty for drug traffickers.
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, 46, Singapore citizen of Indian origin, had his capital sentence carried out today at Changi Prison Complex, according to a Singapore Prison Service spokesperson.
The decision to proceed with the execution had been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and British billionaire Richard Branson, a longtime critic of the financial hub’s use of capital punishment.
The city-state has long defended its uncompromising stance on drugs, arguing that it is not unique among nations in adopting capital punishment, and that its unflinching approach has helped curb drug usage.
Still, the nation’s tough policy is increasingly making it an outlier among its neighbours. Thailand decriminalised cannabis last year, while lawmakers in Malaysia voted earlier this month in favor of abolishing the mandatory death penalty and lifelong imprisonment.
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.
"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."
Family members and rights groups who took up Tangaraju's cause rejected the government's claims and detailed why they believed his death sentence conviction was unsafe.
"Tangaraju's conviction relied mainly on statements from his police interrogation -- taken without a lawyer and interpreter present -- and the testimony of his two co-accused, one of which had his charges dismissed," Amnesty International said.
"In countries that have not yet abolished this punishment, international safeguards require that the death penalty be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts -- and after a legal process which gives all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial," Amnesty added.
"It's particularly outrageous that Tangaraju was arrested, convicted and executed for a cannabis related offense when much of the world is moving forward with cannabis legalization based on medical assessments," Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
"Putting him to death also shows just how far Singapore has fallen behind Malaysia -- its leaders like to claim that their country is more modern and developed but in the case of criminal justice and the death penalty, Singapore is clearly the laggard," Robertson added.
Once again, Singapore shows how completely out of step they are with the basic concepts of human rights, proportionality in criminal punishments and justice
Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch
But the Singapore government has continued to resist calls for reform, carrying out eleven executions last year alone, all for drug related trafficking offences .
The ministry's statement was published in response to overseas criticism of Tangaraju's imminent execution, including from British billionaire Richard Branson, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment.
"Killing people for allegedly smuggling cannabis is particularly cruel and misguided, given that more countries are now introducing sensible drug policy by decriminalizing and regulating both medicinal and recreational cannabis," Branson wrote on a blog on his company's website.
Australian lawmaker Graham Perrett also said Tangaraju's execution "violated international law standards." "Imagine being hanged by the neck until you are dead because of a bit of weed," Perrett, a member of the Labor Party, wrote on Facebook.