Tangaraju Suppiah was a Singaporean of Indian origin who was executed on 26 April 2023 in the Changi Prison in Singapore on the charges of drug trafficking. He was adjudged guilty of conspiring to traffic more than 1 kg of cannabis and was sentenced to death in 2018. There were protests against his execution in various cities across the world.
Tangaraju Suppiah was born in 1977 (age 46 years; at the time of death) in Singapore. He studied at the Merlimau Primary School in Singapore; however, he did not like his studies and dropped out of school after the 5th standard. He was introduced to weed/cannabis when he was 12 years old by the older boys in his neighbourhood, Taman Jurong.
Height (approx.): 5′ 10″
Weight (approx.): 70 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
He was born into a Hindu family. The Independent
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name was Suppiah, and his mother’s name was Letchumi. His mother worked as a cleaner and was employed by the Singapore government. He had a brother named Ramesh and a sister named Leelavathy.
He was unmarried.
His grandmother was a gardener for Jurong Town Corporation. He had two nieces named Subhashini and Thaadshayani Ilango. He had three nephews named Rishi Kumar, Sanjay Sakthi, and Sharan Kumar. His brother-in-law’s name was Ilango. He had two uncles named Annamalai and Sam.
He was single.
First Brush with the Law
He was first jailed in a juvenile correctional facility at the age of 14, and when he became 16 years old, he was transferred to an adult prison as it was found that he consumed cannabis while he was on parole from the Juvenile facility. He came out on parole in 2013 after serving 5 years and three months out of 8 years sentence. His uncle Mandaran helped him financially to open a small minimart (provision shop), which he ran with the help of his sister. He had to undergo weekly urine tests during his parole. When he missed a urine test, he was arrested in January 2014; however, he was soon released, but when his name popped up during the investigation of another case, he was arrested and put on remand.
2013 case involving 1017.9-gram cannabis
Mogan Valo’s Arrest
The 2013 case proved to be a case which ended with a death sentence for Tangaraju Suppiah. Mogan Valo, a Malaysian, was looking for work in Singapore in 2013. One of his acquaintances named Selva gave Valo a phone number, and when he called on the number, the person offered Valo a job at a minimart in Tuas, Singapore. Valo saved the number as ‘India’ as he thought that the person was speaking English with an Indian accent. He later saved another number of the same person with the name ‘India.jus.’ Selva asked Valo on 5 September 2013 to drop off ‘Ya Lei’ (leaves in Tamil, which Valo understood as Cannabis) to the Indian person he had earlier talked to. Valo was also paid $900 in advance, and the drop point was decided as the car parking of the PSA Vista office building at Pasir Panjang or at the McDonald’s outlet at West Coast Park. At 9:00 pm on 6 September 2013, he entered Singapore via Woodlands Checking Point with his girlfriend Salina Binte Salim and drove towards Pasir Panjang; however, he anticipated that he was being followed and tried to flee Singapore via the Tuas Checkpoint where he was stopped by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officials. While checking his black Proton Persona car with the registration number JNV 6167, officials recovered 1017.9 grams of cannabis following which he was arrested around 10 pm. During interrogation, Valo revealed that he was tasked to supply drugs to another person (Indian), and he revealed the Indian person’s physical attributes as a man in his 30s, about 1.76 meters tall, long fringe haircut, wearing gold jewellery, and driving a white van.
Plan to arrest the man red-handed
CNB officials intimidated Valo to assist them to catch the suspect red-handedly while accepting drugs which Valo agreed to. Valo called the Indian person at 11:50 pm as per the instructions of Station Inspector Tay Cher Yeen and other officials, and Valo informed the Indian person that he would hand over the cannabis package to him at the toilets of the McDonald’s outlet at West Coast Park. Valo received a call from the Indian person at 1 pm when Valo and CNB officials reached the outlet. The Indian person told Valo that he was already waiting at the toilets. CNB officials arrested a Singaporean person named Suresh s/o Subramaniam who walked out of the toilets; however, Valo asserted that he had not met him or known him. Valo called the Indian person to inform him that he was at the outlet; however, the person replied that he sent his friend, whom he referred to as ‘fat Indian.’ to collect the cannabis package. When no one turned up, Valo called the Indian person again three more times, and when the person picked up the phone at 2:00 pm, he said that he was on his way; however, he did not come to the outlet.
Ascertaining the Indian person as Tangaraju Suppiah
When CNB officials checked the phones of Valo and Suresh, they found that both men were in contact with the same Indian person and had both phone numbers saved under different names. Suresh’s phone number was 93792632, and he had saved the phone numbers of the Indian person with the name Appu Bro and Apu 2. In March 2014, it was revealed that the Indian person was Tangaraju Suppiah, and he was a childhood friend of Suresh.
Turning down the plea bargain
Tangaraju was offered a plea bargain of 20 years initially, then 15 years, and 12 years finally by the prosecution before his trial; however, he rejected those claims as he believed that he could prove his innocence in court. He said that there was no evidence that he ordered the cannabis package, did not pay or receive any money for the drugs, and it was not caught in his possession. After he rejected the pleas, the case went to the court for trial.
Tangaraju Suppiah’s Court Trial
His trial began on 3 October 2017 at the High Court of Singapore. The prosecutors were Anandan Bala and Kee Yongwen Kenneth, and Tangaraju’s defence attorneys were Ram Goswami and Cheng Kim Kuan. Mogan Valo had already pleaded guilty to trafficking 499.99g of cannabis and was given 23 years of jail and 15 strokes of the cane. Tangaraju mentioned his occupation as a shop owner, and he mentioned the address of his shop as Mahendran Provision Shop at 115 Tuas South Avenue 1. Tangaraju mentioned that he could not recall the first number 83567639 and accepted the second number 90356293 as a work number. He gave another number 81787447 as a personal number. Tangaraju said during the trial that he often lost his phone, and he did not use the number to contact Selva or Valo. E-Litigation His lawyers argued that Suresh was the main conspirator as he fitted the description of the man given by Valo, and he framed Tangaraju to avoid the death sentence; however, prosecutors argued that Suresh and Valo were with CNB officials, and when Valo called the Indian person in front of them, it was received by another person, hence Suresh could not be the main accused. Suresh became a witness and said that he often used to go drinking with Tangaraju, and on the night of 6 September 2013, he talked to Tangaraju more than 10 times, and he was asked by Tangaraju to check for a car of a friend. He later stated that he was asked by Tangaraju to check the toilets of the McDonald’s outlet, and he was arrested by CNB when he came out of the toilets. Supreme Court Judgements
Death Sentencing of Tangaraju Suppiah
On 9 October 2018, Tangaraju Suppiah was sentenced to death on the charges of drug trafficking under Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act by Justice Hoo Sheau Peng. Section 12 included that drugs more than 1 kg would mean the death penalty for the accused. She mentioned in her verdict that the circumstantial evidence proved that Tangaraju was the main accused, and the fact that his phone was not found, did not discredit the circumstantial evidence. She said that Tangaraju admitted during the initial interrogation that he ordered the drugs; however, during the later stage of interrogation, he denied his initial testimonies and said that he lost his phone numbers and was innocent. She mentioned that both phone numbers found in the phones of Valo and Suresh belonged to the same person. She also said that if Tangaraju was innocent, he would not have changed his statements halfway through the interrogation. She also said that Suresh and Tangaraju were longtime friends, and there was no evidence of animosity between them. She also referred to the point that Valo was told about a job at a minimart, which Tangaraju could have easily done. Drugs Act E-Litigation
Appeals for overturning Death Sentence
After his death sentence, he appealed at the Court of Appeal of Singapore, which was dismissed on 14 August 2019. Later, Tangaraju and 21 other inmates sued the Attorney General of Singapore and claimed that the prison officials forwarded the inmates’ letters, for their families and lawyers, to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) without the inmates’ permission, which was a breach of their rights; however, it was dismissed on 16 March 2021. The Independent On 3 August 2021, Tangaraju and 23 other inmates filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Singapore and claimed that they were at a disadvantage as they were not getting access to lawyers; however, the judges dismissed the case by stating that the lawyers were not ready to take the death conviction cases. The Straits Times Tangaraju again appealed in the Court of Appeal of Singapore and presented his case without a lawyer; however, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong Horng Siong dismissed his appeal and said that Tangaraju’s conviction was valid as all circumstantial pieces of evidence pointed to him. E-Litigation Singapore Law Watch
Notice of Tangaraju Suppiah’s execution
Since the rejection of Tangaraju’s appeal in 2019, he was out on death row at the Changi Prison. Singapore Prison Service officials sent Tangaraju’s execution notice to his sister Leelavathy on 19 April 2023, which mentioned that he would be executed on 26 April 2023, and the extended visiting hours for the family. When this news came into the media, Singaporean activists Kokila Annamalai and Kirsten Han requested the Singapore government to not execute Tangaraju. CNB ABC News
Final Appeal for Mercy
Tangaraju’s family, families of other inmates on death row, and social activists protested publicly against the death sentence on 23 April 2023. They requested the President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob, to grant mercy to Tangaraju, and more than 50 clemency letters were also sent to the Office of the President of Singapore, known as The Istana, which requested to commute his death sentence into life imprisonment. On 25 April 2023, Tangaraju appealed under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which was rejected by Justice Steven Chong Horng Siong who said that Tangaraju’s allegations that he was not aware of the quantity of the cannabis, were baseless, and he had not raised such doubts earlier during his trial. BBC The Japan Times
Execution on 26 April 2023
Tangaraju Suppiah was executed at the age of 46 on the morning of 26 April 2023 around 6:00 am at the Changi Prison, Singapore. His mother came to meet him on 25 April 2023; however, she was not informed about his execution as it would have affected her mentally. His last meal before his execution included chicken rice, nasi biryani, ice cream soda, and milo-flavoured sweets. He was also allowed to give a treat of fish burgers, curry puffs, and soft drinks to his fellow inmates using his allowance. He also requested special prayer beads and kumkum, a red powder with religious significance, from a temple in Selangor, Malaysia; however, the prison officials only approved the beads to be given to him. As per Singapore’s execution rules, his height and weight were checked, and a final photoshoot was done to give the photos of Tangaraju to his family. He did not want to be photographed; however, upon the requests of his family, he agreed. He was executed in the Long Drop Hanging, the official execution-style in Singapore. Singapore Prison Service official spokesperson released a media statement that Tangaraju’s execution was done in accordance with his execution warrant. His personal belongings were also returned to his family members on 25 April 2023. The New York Times
International Backlash against Singapore for Tangaraju
Richard Branson’s support of Tangaraju Suppiah
On 23 April 2023, British billionaire Richard Branson wrote on his official blog that Tangaraju did not deserve to be executed on the basis of circumstantial evidence as he was not anywhere near the drugs when he was arrested. He even took to Twitter to protest against his execution. Virgin
Singapore is such a wonderful country, so it's sad to see some of its social policies harking back to colonisim, and reminiscient of medieval times. Here's more: https://t.co/zMQ4owW4os pic.twitter.com/Vq7R3lUf4o
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 23, 2023
United Nations Human Rights Office
Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson of the United Nations Human Rights Office, questioned the fairness of Tangaraju’s trial and also requested the Singapore authorities to stop his execution. UNHR
#Singapore: We urge the Government not to proceed with the imminent hanging of Tangaraju Suppiah. Imposing the death penalty for drug offences is incompatible with intl norms & standards. pic.twitter.com/DPfiahHcqo
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 25, 2023
Harm Reduction International & Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)
The Harm Reduction International and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN), social organisations, termed the execution order as extremely cruel and requested the Singapore authorities to grant clemency to Tangaraju and also requested them to abolish the death penalty. The executive coordinator of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Dobby Chew, said that it was infamy as Tangaraju was sentenced to death despite never touching the drugs. Harm Reduction International Vice News
Reprieve & Amnesty International
Reprieve & Amnesty International, human rights organisations, also openly declared that Singapore might be killing an innocent man. It also released a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, to stop the execution of Tangaraju. They referred to the circumstantial evidence and mentioned that the execution was unlawful. Amnesty International Amnesty International
Support from other organisations
The European Union (EU) requested Singapore to commute Tangaraju’s death sentence to life imprisonment and abrogate the death penalty. The France-based human rights group International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also requested clemency for him. The vice president of the Capital Punishment Justice Project, Sara Kowal, also appealed for mercy for Tangaraju and requested for the case to be heard again by another judge. An Australian MP Graham Perrett also raised doubts about the execution and said that it violated international law. FIDH EU The Independent
Reply of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of Singapore
Singapore MHA refuted Richard Branson’s allegations as false and issued a statement that Branson’s statements disrespected Singapore’s judicial system and judges. They said that the judgement was correct as the circumstantial evidence pointed to Tangaraju. They also referred to a survey which implied that 87% of Singapore people and 83% of foreign nationals supported death sentencing for drug trafficking crimes. MHA South China Morning Post
- His nickname was Appu.
- He was raised in a single-mother household and lived in a one-room house during his childhood.
- There were rumours that he was not provided with a Tamil interpreter; however, the rumours were quashed by the judge during the trial.
- He was described by fellow inmates as a smiling person, and his relatives and friends described him as the first person to help them in every situation.