P Pannir Selvam, a Malaysian who is on death row in Singapore, has appealed for a second chance through a letter he wrote on his most recent birthday, that was published by Malaysiakini.
Pannir Selvam was born in 1987 and was raised by his housewife mother and lorry driver father with five other siblings in a strong Christian household. Describing his family as a close one filled with love, Pannir Selvam wrote that at the age of nine, he used to wonder what kind of person he would be in the future and harboured ambitions of becoming a pilot.
Twenty years later, 31-year-old Pannir Selvam is a condemned prisoner on death row in Singapore’s Changi Prison for trafficking 51.48g of heroin. He was sentenced to death in 2017 and an appeal to reduce his sentence was dismissed in February, last year.
Last November, however, Pannir Selvam re-committed his life to Christ and was baptised in the prison by pastor Tan Boon Teck and given the Christian name of Paul Silas. Pannir Selvam wrote:
“I felt blessed, and my heart blossomed with joy that came from God’s salvation. I was still praying to God to help me to get the certificate of cooperation from the deputy public prosecutor, which will reduce my death sentence.”
Pannir Selvam planned to request for a form to write to the Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) to appeal for a reduction in his sentence. Before he could do so, on 17 May 2019, he was notified that the President had rejected his appeal for clemency and that he would be executed in about a week.
Pannir Selvam recounted: “At that moment, a lot was racing through my mind. All my hopes, passions, desires, faith and everything else died at that moment. I prayed to God, asking Him “is this how it all should end?”
“I kept asking myself how I am going to overcome this. I had been strong for my family. But I don’t know how I would prepare my family to go through this hard time with me, and after that, without me. I have to bury my dreams and desire to help others because it is not in my hands anymore.”
Deciding to prepare his family for his impending execution, Pannir Selvam wrote letters to his siblings and began preparing himself for court. He wrote:
“Every word that I wrote to my family felt so important and carried so much weight at that moment, and I have to choose carefully how I am going to put these down, but I could not find my words nor the will to do so.
“The whole of Friday, I kept praying, preparing myself on how to speak to my family. I was sleepless that night. My heart has never felt so heavy and I could barely close my eyes. The next day, my family was there to visit me. Their faces dull and eyes red from crying, I could tell that they were confused, scared, unsettled and disappointed.
“I told myself to be strong for them. The first thing we did was pray for about 10 minutes. I led the prayer. We were all still in shock, the first two hours was very difficult and tough. We started to break the silence by expressing ourselves.
“The visit on Sunday was much better. We composed ourselves and started sharing all our memories together. We laughed, we cried, we sang songs and praised God. We shared biblical scriptures with each other, and at the same time we were planning the submission of my affidavit and planned to engage any lawyers that could help out.”
Pannir Selvam soon had to face the prospect of having to represent himself in court without legal guidance, since his family found it difficult to engage any lawyers to file his motion since it was a public holiday.
Pannir Selvam was set to be executed on 24 May, a Friday. He claimed that he and his family faced a lot of trouble from the Changi Prison management “from document delays, room availability, photocopy issues, access to legal documents, to not letting my Malaysian lawyers see me.”
Unable to find a lawyer, Pannir Selvam was forced to prepare himself to represent himself in the Court of Appeal since his request to get legal guidance from his Malaysian lawyer was rejected without cause.
Revealing that he was “physically and mentally distraught” and lost his appetite, getting less than three hours of sleep each night since he heard of his execution date, Pannir Selvam wrote:
“The time I spent with my mum and dad was heart-breaking and sad. That moment I realised how I should have valued the time I had with them. It was really hard to put it in words what we exactly we felt.”
With a heavy heart, he stepped into the Court of Appeal on 23 May – the day before he was supposed to be executed. He recounted:
“On my way from the prison to the court, I was praying in the van. “God I only have you now, please listen to my prayer.”
“The moment I stepped into the court my legs were trembling. I have to do this now, or I will never get this chance again. I was not in the right frame of mind, so I steadied myself and braced for the worst.
“God is great! The moment I was sitting at the dock, I saw two young lawyers coming in and walking towards me. When I saw them, I had a sense of relief and knew that I had lawyers now to represent me.”
The lawyers, Too Xing Ji and Lee Ji En, sought Pannir Selvam’s approval for them to act as his lawyers. Revealing that the burden in his heart was lifted, Pannir Selvam said:
“They were very humble and dedicated. They even risked their career to save my life, even though I am just a stranger.
“There were around six to seven lawyers there that were trying to help me. They got together and made suggestions, and tried to find better grounds for me to appeal. What had happened that day was a miracle from God. Around 4.05pm, the court ordered a rare stay of execution.
“I am very grateful to the lawyers and the judges for that. The lawyers came to me and said that, “You are not going to be hanged tomorrow. We will come and see you.” I held his hand and said, “Thank you, I can’t really express my gratitude to you.””
On 24 May, Pannir Selvam was still alive. He, however, has yet to obtain the certificate of cooperation from the public prosecutors that will save his life from the gallows.
Appealing to the readers of his story to save his life and give him a second chance, Pannir Selvam wrote: “I don’t know if I deserve to live, but I do know that I don’t deserve to die, for everything and everyone around me, for the future, and for others that might be in the same predicament as I am in now.”
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