Singapore Court of Appeals granted Malaysian-national Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, 31, a stay of execution yesterday afternoon (May 23), a day before he is about to be hanged.
Selvam, who is scheduled to be executed today at dawn, appealed for a stay of execution so that he can challenge the clemency process. He was found guilty of carrying 51.84g of heroin at Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2014.
Selvam’s lawyers asserted that he was only informed of his execution date a week ago and that President Halimah Yacob rejected his petition for clemency.
Pannir Selvam should “have a reasonable opportunity to take advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge,” Chief Justice Sundraresh Menon said.
During the hearing, Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng “candidly” acknowledged that this would not have given Pannir Selvam much time to obtain advice on any options he had to appeal the execution of the sentence, said Chief Justice Menon.
Lawyer Too Xing Ji came forward to represent Pannir Selvam on the hearing date itself, after learning about the case the night before.
“To be fair to him (Mr Too), we could not expect him to be in a position to mount a fully developed argument,” said Chief Justice Menon.
“There was also nothing to suggest that the applicant had acted with undue delay or in abuse of the process of the court. In the circumstances, we think the execution should be stayed until further order.”
Pannir Selvam’s application was also heard by two Judges of Appeal, Judith Prakash and Steven Chong.
Rejected even before request was made
On May 21 in a sworn statement, Pannir Selvam attested that he had been “deprived of a fair determination of the clemency process.”
He was referring to the letters sent to his family about the rejection of his clemency petition from the President’s office and the scheduled execution date from the Singapore Prison Service.
Both letters were received on May 17.
“This means that the decision of the prison to proceed with the execution was made prior to the rejection of clemency by the President,” said Pannir Selvam in his affidavit.
“This raises serious questions and has seriously prejudiced the clemency process to which I was entitled under Article 22P of the Constitution.”
Pannir Selvam also brought up the “extreme shortness of time”, saying that he was not able to engage lawyers in Singapore to file a challenge to the clemency decision and to obtain a stay.
Detailing a timeline of events, the President’s principal private secretary Mr Benny Lee in an affidavit said that prior to May 7, Mdm Halimah had been advised by the Cabinet “that the law should be allowed to take its course” in Pannir Selvam’s case.
On May 7, Mr Lee then signed three letters informing Pannir Selvam and his family that the death sentence would stand.
The letters, which were dated May 17, were then sent by the Istana on May 14 to the Singapore Prison Service “for onward transmission” to Pannir Selvam and his family.
Meanwhile, in response to Malaysian media reports, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) made reassurances that the clemency petitions for Pannir Selvam’s case “were carefully considered.”
“The President acted on the advice of the Cabinet, in accordance with Article 22P of the Constitution, in not exercising the clemency power,” said MHA.
On Malaysian media reports saying that Pannir Selvam was unreasonably denied a “Certificate of Substantive Assistance” which might have spared him the mandatory death penalty, the ministry responded saying:
“MHA would like to clarify that the decision is taken by the Public Prosecutor in his sole discretion, based on whether the offender had provided the authorities substantive assistance that leads to the disruption of drug trafficking activities in Singapore. The Public Prosecutor determined that he had not.”
Pranthaman Rajoo, Pannir Selvam’s father was jubilant with the Court of Appeal’s decision to stay the execution, and is praying hard that it will not be a transitory decision.