SINGAPORE (Reuters) -A Singapore court on Tuesday stayed the execution of a Malaysian convicted of drug smuggling for reasons of “common sense and humanity” after confirming he had tested positive for COVID-19, a day before he was due to be hanged.
The judge did not rule on a last-minute appeal filed on behalf of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, 33, and said the stay of execution was until further notice.
“We have got to use logic, common sense and humanity,” judge Andrew Phang told the court, referring to the COVID-19 diagnosis and the stay of execution.
The court had convened to rule on the appeal here against the execution of a man whose lawyer had argued should be spared because he was not of sound mind.
A handcuffed Dharmalingam made a brief appearance in court.
Dharmalingam was arrested in April 2009 and has been on death row for more than a decade for trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin.
His case has attracted international attention, with Malaysia’s prime minister, a group of U.N. experts and British billionaire Richard Branson here among those who have called on Singapore to commute his death sentence.
Singapore, a wealthy city-state, has some of the world’s toughest laws against illegal drugs.
The man’s lawyer, M Ravi, said he now had more time to prepare for when proceedings resume.
“COVID has allowed him to live in this world, rather than kill him,” Ravi said.
Ravi and activists say Dharmalingam’s intellect was at a level recognised as a mental disability, and he has other disorders affecting his decision-making and impulse control.
Authorities have said Singapore courts were satisfied he knew what he was doing.
Dharmalingam’s sister, Sarmila Dharmalingam, told Reuters the stay of execution would give the family hope, at least for a while.
“We hope for the best. Day by day, we are struggling with fear … For now, we can relax just a little bit but we still don’t have peace,” she said.
“The whole world is talking about this case, so many people are against his execution.”
From 2016 to 2019, Singapore hanged 25 people – the majority for drug-related offences, according to official data.
There were no executions in Singapore last year.