SINGAPORE: The execution of a Malaysian drug trafficker was stayed on Tuesday (Nov 9) by the Court of Appeal, after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who has been on death row for 11 years, was ushered in briefly into the dock for a last-bid attempt against his death sentence.
However, he was later taken away, and a judge informed the court that Nagaenthran had tested positive for COVID-19.
Justice Andrew Phang, who appeared with fellow judges Judith Prakash and Kannan Ramesh, said "this is rather unexpected". He said the court was of the view that it was not appropriate to proceed, "given the circumstances".
"The execution is scheduled for tomorrow," said Justice Phang. "... If the applicant has been afflicted by COVID-19 ... it's our view that the execution cannot take place anyway."
The prosecution said they only just heard of the development and needed to take instructions.
"I think here, we have to use logic, common sense and humanity," said Justice Phang. He adjourned the hearing to a date yet to be fixed and issued a stay of the execution until proceedings are concluded.
In response to CNA's queries, a Supreme Court spokesperson said: "Nagaenthran was only in the dock for a few minutes before he was ushered out after the Singapore Prison Service received news that his PCR result was positive.
"Throughout this period, he remained masked. In addition, there are glass panels surrounding the accused dock which separate him from the rest of the public present in court."
As part of safe distancing measures in court, those attending court hearings are required to sit at least 1m apart from each other. Everyone must feel well and be masked at all times, said the spokesperson.
Deep cleaning has been conducted in the Court of Appeal and other areas.
BACKGROUND OF THE HEARING
Lawyer M Ravi had taken up 33-year-old Nagaenthran's case at the eleventh hour, ahead of his scheduled hanging on Wednesday.
His court application on Monday for a judicial review of the case on grounds of Nagaenthran's purported mental disability was dismissed, but the judge granted a temporary stay of his execution until after Mr Ravi appealed against the dismissal.
The case was fast-tracked and the appeal set to be heard in the highest court on Tuesday afternoon, with a packed courtroom including foreign media and local activists.
Mr Ravi was seen hugging a fellow counsel after the stay of execution was announced.
No other details of when Nagaenthran tested positive for COVID-19 were given. CNA has contacted Singapore Prison Services for more information.
Nagaenthran was sentenced to death in 2010 for importing 42.72g of heroin into Singapore in 2009 in a bundle strapped to his thigh. He failed in his appeals to the High Court in 2011, to the Apex Court in 2019 and in his petition to the president for clemency.
The case drew international attention as Nagaenthran's impending execution neared, with an online petition against his death sentence drawing about 70,000 signatures as of Tuesday, and coverage by international media.
Malaysia's prime minister reportedly wrote to his Singapore counterpart on the matter, said news agency Bernama. Human rights groups and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson have also weighed in on the issue.