The execution of a Singaporean man convicted of cannabis trafficking has been met with shock and outrage by rights activists, who criticize the country's use of capital punishment despite many other nations adopting more progressive approaches to drug-related offenses. At 2.2 pounds, this is one of the most severe cases in recent years leading up to Wednesday's sentence.
Despite the trend of marijuana decriminalization internationally, Singapore stands firm in its hardline stance against drug trafficking. The government claims that capital punishment is necessary to protect public safety and prevent further criminal activity.
On Wednesday, Singaporean Tangaraju Suppiah became the first person to receive capital punishment in 6 months, nearly seven years after his sentence of death was carried out at Changi Prison. The 46-year-old's execution marks a sobering milestone for justice and human rights activists who have long campaigned against similar laws in Southeast Asia.
In the days prior to Tangaraju's execution, his family and advocates kept up a vocal campaign for clemency. This was backed by international organizations such as the European Union’s office in Singapore and human rights offices at the United Nations which urged that he not be hanged.
In 2018, Tangaraju was handed down a death sentence for his involvement in an illegal drug trafficking network. After investigations revealed he had been communicating with two other men who were caught attempting to smuggle cannabis into Singapore — weighing more than 1 kilogram (1,017.9 grams) — the Central Narcotics Bureau issued their statement confirming the court's verdict of capital punishment as a penalty.
Amnesty International stated, "Tangaraju’s conviction relied mainly on statements from his police interrogation – taken without a lawyer and interpreter present."
Amnesty International released a statement warning against the death penalty, highlighting that it should only be used when guilt has been clearly and conclusively established after due process. The organization further emphasized its position on fair trial protections being applied in countries that still maintain capital punishment as an option.
The Transformative Justice Collective (TJC) recently raised alarm regarding the lack of evidence used to convict Tangaraju. A local abolitionist movement, they noted that it was "shockingly thin," emphasizing their concern over this particular case and its implications for public justice systems nationwide.
“The case against Tangaraju is largely circumstantial and based on inferences.” said the TJC.
Despite never coming into contact with the trafficked cannabis, Suppiah was still connected to an attempted drug trafficking offense due to two phone numbers found on arrested suspects. The identified number had allegedly coordinated the cannabis delivery in question.
The group went on to explain, "Tangaraju was already in remand for a separate offense by the time he was linked to this case, and his mobile phones were never recovered for analysis."
Even eccentric billionaire Richard Branson wrote in a blog on his company's website saying, "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."
Tangaraju Suppiah’s execution is a tragic reminder of the harshness of Singaporean laws on drug-related offenses. Even though many other countries are moving towards more progressive approaches to cannabis laws, it has become clear that this is not the case in Singapore. The lack of evidence used against him and his family's plea for clemency was ultimately disregarded, making his death sentence all the more heartbreaking. It is our hope that governments around the world will learn from this tragedy and begin to recognize how criminalizing nonviolent behavior only serves to harm communities rather than protect them. With continued advocacy from human rights organizations and activists alike, we can strive together for justice systems that prioritize fairness over retaliation.