KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 — Malaysians rallied behind Nagaenthran Dharmalingam on social media immediately after Singapore executed him for drug trafficking, united in their condemnation of the republic in a show of support rarely shown for convicts.
On Twitter, the outpouring of sympathy for Nagaenthran trended at number three, underscoring the public interest in a case that has unexpectedly ignited debate about the justness of the death penalty.
Malaysians and the world reacted to the execution angrily. Many accused the Singaporen authorities of cold-blooded murder for hanging a person with intellectual disability.
One of the most shared tweets about Nagaenthran was the last photo of him alive, of him believed to have dressed in his favourite clothes - a dark Fred Perry polo shirt, medium wash blue jeans and sneakers. He was bald, sitting on a stool posing without much expression.
The Twitter user who posted the photo, Singaporean journalist and activist Kirsten Han, said prison authorities usually let family members buy clothes for the prisoners on death row to wear at a photo shoot. The photos are given to the family shortly before, or after execution.
Rest In Peace, Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam.— Kirsten Han 韩俐颖 (@kixes) April 27, 2022
Before an execution, family members are allowed to buy clothes for the prisoner to wear at a photo shoot. The photos are given to the family shortly before, or after execution.
Navin says this was Nagen’s favourite outfit and photo. pic.twitter.com/wYXfqinIIn
“Navin says this was Nagen’s favourite outfit and photo,” Han wrote.
The tweet was shared over 2,500 times and garnered close to 5,000 likes.
Nagaenthran, 34, had been on death row for more than a decade. Like many drug mules, he was caught trafficking just 44 grams of heroin into Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest narcotics laws.
Despite multiple appeals against his execution saying he was intellectually disabled, the Singaporean Appeals Court upheld his conviction. The ruling, initially delayed by public protests, was condemned worldwide, including by Singaporean activists.
“To the Singapore state, he was defined by that arrest, which led to charge, conviction, sentence, and now death,” Han wrote in the ensuing tweet.
“To his family, Nagen was so much more. He was, and still is, so loved. Today, he will finally go home.”
The support shown to Nagaenthran on Twitter also cuts across all ethnicities, not rare but unusual in a country where issues are often framed from a racial lens.
One user, Nazeera Nasir, asked all Malaysians to say a prayer for Nagaenthran and his family, regardless of creed. The tweet received 1,600 likes.
“May his family survive this ordeal and they will find solace in the solidarity of others. It really could’ve been any of us,” she wrote.
Others saw in Nagaenthran’s execution the manifestation of a system that disprortionately punishes the poor, that his only crime, and millions like him, was being susceptible to any chance at escaping poverty.
“Hung for mere hundreds of dollars of debt, for the crime of being poor, for being afraid of having his girlfriend be murdered by a trafficker,” said a user by the name @lmaokastur.
“So many crimes were committed against him—poverty, ableism, intimidation. But only he was punished. With his life.”
“Poverty enables exploitation.Poverty disempowers people from resisting injustice.
Poverty is policy failure,” wrote another user, @Nash
“Nagaenthran was a Indian man who was a victim of such disempowerment. He was a victim of exploitation. He was a victim of the cruel barbarism masquerading as “justice”.
For human rights groups, Nagaenthran’s hanging became yet another call for urgent action in the fight against the death penalty, with Groups like Amnesty International hoping the case would push Malaysians to talk openly about the thorny subject.
On Twitter at least, arguments against the death penalty appeared to have resonated among some. Death penalty, they said, had clearly failed to deter trafficking and called on policymakers to rethink its war against narcotics.
“There is no justice to be found in the death penalty. It’s a cruel artifact that makes us all less safe. It needs to be abolished,” said user @JackKinLi.
“The fight that everyone has been putting up for the life of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, alongside his family, is a reminder: every life matters and every life is worth the fight,” wrote Michelle Yesudas, lawyer and activist.
“The death penalty has to be abolished, no one should go through this ever again.”