Hung At Dawn

October 27, 2005

Please don’t crush this soul

Filed under: Campaign,Shanmugam Murugesu — hungatdawn @ 8:06 am

Source: The Age (Australia) Murugesu has a rare place in Singapore’s gallery of hanged men. His fate was acknowledged and discussed publicly, because his family dared to challenge the stigma and use his name to fight against the death penalty. It briefly raised the issue but did not save his life.

On Friday, May 13, 2005, at 6am, Shanmugam was hooded and hanged at Changi prison.

Australian man Nguyen Tuong Van, who was held in the cell next to Shanmugam, and used to talk to him through the wall, awaits a similar fate.

“Shanmugam said this boy is such a gentle soul, all the nine or 10 prisoners (on death row) drew inspiration from this young boy,” said M. Ravi, Shanmugam’s lawyer for his final presidential clemency appeal.

“Before he died, Shanmugam made a personal appeal to me to save Nguyen Tuong Van’s life at all costs,” Mr Ravi said. “He called him the small boy, said he didn’t know how they were going to crush this simple soul.”

Mr Ravi, who has not been involved in Nguyen’s defence, will lodge a citizen’s appeal to the president citing a breach of the constitution. Shanmugam, 38, was an eight-year veteran of the Singapore Army and a champion powerskier who represented his country at the world titles in 1995. He was hanged for importing six packets, containing almost two kilograms of cannabis, from Malaysia in his motorbike. He admitted to one packet for personal use but denied knowledge of the rest. The death sentence is mandatory for importation of more than 500 grams of cannabis.

A picture of Shanmugam, taken the day before he died, is on the living room wall of the Murugesu family’s flat in Jurong West. He is dressed in clothes the family was told to take to the prison for the portrait.

A mother speaks by jacobg69.

His mother, Letchumi, breaks down as she lifts a ceremonial gold neckchain that hangs over the portrait to show his bruised swollen knuckles, where he had been punching the walls of his cell. Mrs Murugesu, who emigrated to Singapore from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and speaks little English, is preparing to say Deepavali prayers for her son today.

The authorities allowed no physical contact between Shanmugam and his mother, sister Maheswari, or his twin teenage sons Krishnan and Gopalan from the time he was moved to Changi prison after his conviction until his hanging.

“The whole family don’t have a chance to hug him, to kiss, they are taking the family love away. We can’t touch him, we can only touch his dead body,” said his sister.

“He can touch no one, not even a baby. My new baby was born after he went to prison. I want him to hold him and bless him, I said I will give my baby to him naked.

“We made a special request. My mum wanted to feel him, touch him, smell him (before he died). It was not allowed. So he took his towel and wiped his body with it and wanted to give that to her but it was not allowed.”

The towel carried the serial number 859. Nguyen Tuong Van’s number is 856 — he arrived on death row before Shanmugam.

Details of life on Singapore’s death row are protected by the Official Secrets Act. The family would not comment on the significance of the number. However, others have suggested it relates to the number of prisoners who have been hanged in Singapore in the past 30 years. Amnesty International estimates more than 400 prisoners have been hanged since 1991.

“The worst part is they will never tell you (when the execution will take place) until the end. If your son is going to hang they call you to a private room,” Maheswari said.

The usual procedure is to issue a letter but the Murugesus were told in person during a prison visit. The call came on Monday, May 9.

“One of the officers called me, my mother fell down, she was crying, she was begging them to give her back her son and she would leave Singapore and take him back to India.

“For Shanmugam and Van, it was their first times, they could learn their lessons,” she said. “If my brother was sitting inside four walls it is more than enough to learn from what he has done. In 10 to 15 years, he can do something. He could study in prison. Not only one life is gone, but other lives are suffering, every day we are all still crying. He never killed any people, people can change.”

The Hindu tradition is to burn the body and scatter the ashes at sea. Shanmugam had one last request: “I don’t want my ashes spread in the Singapore sea.”


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