COVID-19 Saves a Life: The Execution of a Mentally Disabled Man was Stayed After Testing Positive for the Virus


Written by Associate Editor: Sam Keller

A death penalty case in Singapore has drawn large amounts of attention from all over the globe in recent weeks. Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a mentally disabled man, was caught smuggling 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore from Malaysia in 2009 and was subsequently sentenced to death under the mandatory punishment for drug smuggling in 2010.

Mr. Nagaenthran’s execution initially stayed in 2011 when Singapore’s parliament reviewed and amended the country’s death penalty, which took effect in 2013, that allowed death penalties to be reduced to life imprisonment if the offender was “suffering from an abnormality of the mind.” During Mr. Nagaenthran’s trial, he underwent a mental assessment and was deemed to have an IQ of 69, which meets the United Nations’ definition of mild mental retardation. Mr. Nagaenthran subsequently sought a lighter sentence, but his attempts were unsuccessful because the high court found that he understood the nature of his actions despite his mental disabilities.

M Ravi, Mr. Nagaenthran’s lawyer, has now turned his fight to the victimization of Mr. Nagaenthran in the world of drug-trafficking operations. M Ravi’s focus is that the courts should be sentencing his client for treatment and help rather than to death. The world outside of Singapore seems to be wholly supportive of M Ravi’s argument and many are calling for further revisions of Singapore’s drug and capital punishment laws. The use of capital punishment has been long unopposed by citizens of Singapore, but some views have begun to shift with the younger generation moving into positions of power.

Advocacy groups across the world, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called for a halt on Mr. Nagaenthran’s execution, arguing that the execution of a person with a mental disability violates international law. There is also a petition that has gathered more than 75,000 signatures in support of Mr. Nagaenthran in his fight for his life.

Most recently, Mr. Nagaenthran tested positive for COVID-19 even though he was in solitary confinement. He was escorted out of the courtroom during his last chance at an appeal on November 9 because of his positive test. He was scheduled to be put to death on November 10. The court halted his execution and ruled that the execution would stay until further notice because the positive diagnosis preceded the completion of the proceedings.

Because the execution is stayed until further notice, Mr. Nagaenthran and his attorney may continue to work on a defense and hope that the rest of the world, including international courts, will step in and get Mr. Nagaenthran the help that he needs. Of all the harm that COVID-19 has done in the past two years, saving a life has been quite a pleasant surprise.

The Wall Street Journal – Singapore Execution Stayed After Positive Covid-19 Test – Nov. 9, 2021, available at

BBC News – Nagaenthran Dharmalingam: Singapore halts execution of man with low IQ – Nov. 9, 2021, available at