By N Surendran
Let me begin by saying that Malaysian citizen S Prabagaran, who was hanged to death by Singapore on July 14, was innocent. This is the brutal, horrifying fact of the matter.
An innocent man was hanged, while the government of his own country did not lift a finger to save him.
Why do I say he was innocent? Firstly, the obvious facts of his case. Why would a man who had safely made it past customs checkpoint, stop to fix his car window in sight of customs officers, if he truly knew he was carrying drugs?
But after his hanging, I became privy to his last conversations with a fellow prisoner, another Malaysian, also on death row.
About to die, with no further hope of reprieve, no point in lying or fabricating, Praba still protested his complete innocence; that he had no knowledge that there were drugs in the borrowed car he drove across Woodlands checkpoint.
How would he know then that every thrust upon the accelerator would lead him to the noose that would choke the life out of him on July 14, 2017?
But that was still five years away. He would live a nightmare that seemed to have no end, an eternity of anguish and fear, in those long five years of imprisonment in the shadow of the rope.
Can you imagine what it is like to be executed for a crime you did not commit? Yet, so many of us, in the delusional belief of an infallible justice system, cheer on the executioner and say smugly that Praba got what he deserved.
Shakespeare said the man who hath no music in him is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils. And the man who approves of the judicial killing of his fellow man, what is he not fit for?
The horror for Prabagaran, was that no one would listen. He told the customs officers who stopped him, he told the policemen who detained and interrogated him, he told the parade of grim judges who heard his trial and appeals year after year. But no one would hear him.
When we received the notice of execution, exactly a week before the appointed death date of July 14, we had long expected it. Yet, it was difficult to process. It was on paper, in black and white, but it did not seem like something that belongs to the sane rational world to which we all pride ourselves in belonging.
I saw Praba for the first and last time in court on July 13, 2017. He was calm and quiet, and intently followed the proceedings.
The application to stay the execution, was never likely to get a happy or fair reception from the Singapore judiciary.
Our Singapore counsels, Remy Choo and Priscilla Chai, who filed the application on short notice, and argued it in court against the odds, knew it. And Praba knew it.
Yet, he wished to know if there was even a flicker of hope. During a court break, he asked me in English, hoping against hope, cautiously couching his question in the negative, “It is difficult, right?”
Shortly after, the three judges of the court of appeal appeared from their chambers like the three Fates of ancient Greece, and sealed his death warrant by their dismissal of the stay motion. Presiding Justice Chao Hick Tin said it was time to “put this matter to repose”. Remarkably ill-chosen words.
The last time I saw him was shortly after the verdict. He was standing up, in his purple prisoners outfit, surrounded by prison guards within the protected glass of the prisoner’s pen, about to be led down for the final meeting with his family.
This I can say. Praba did not die a criminal. He died a victim of a system that was driven by its own relentless inner logic, a system that was ultimately unconcerned with truth or compassion.
N Surendran is PKR vice-president and a human rights lawyer.
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