What it's like for Singapore's death row inmates in the days leading up to their execution

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While facing execution is a daunting prospect under any circumstances, the conditions of death row confinement in Singapore underscore deeper human rights and social justice issues, advocates have argued.

Despite several appeals from the inmate's family and protests from advocates, Singapore executed Tangaraju Suppiah in Changi Prison on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old man, who was convicted of conspiring to traffic 2.2 pounds of cannabis, was the first prisoner in Singapore to be hanged this year. It was just six months ago when Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with an alleged intellectual disability, was executed for a similar offense.

Both executions received condemnation from local and international rights advocates, who accused Singapore of executing mostly ethnic minorities, foreigners and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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According to a 2021 U.N. report, Malays account for 84% of executions for drug trafficking in Singapore, despite making up only about 15% of its population.

Organizations such as Amnesty International have argued that such executions are “the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment” and breach human rights “regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.”

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Reports from advocates paint the harrowing experience death row inmates in Singapore face in their last days before hanging.

Individuals sentenced to death in Singapore are held in a special facility housed in a separate section of the Changi Prison Complex until their execution.

According to Giada Girelli, a human rights analyst at Harm Reduction International, the inmates are kept in strict isolation in small cells furnished only with a toilet, a mat and a bucket.

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It is unknown whether prisoners are allowed to leave their cells each day or for how long.

Prison authorities supervise prisoners closely and filter letters and communications with the outside world.

This was the basis of the lawsuit filed by Tangaraju and 21 other death row prisoners last year against the Attorney-General of Singapore for a breach of the inmates' rights. A court dismissed the case.

Just days before their execution, the inmates are granted some privileges.

They are reportedly given some time to watch television or listen to the radio and are offered meals of their choosing.

They are also allowed extra visits, which are limited to immediate family members and their legal representatives and take place in a special room closely monitored by prison staff. Inmates are not allowed to touch their visitors or engage in physical contact of any kind.

Inmates are also provided a photoshoot before their execution.

According to the authorities, these photoshoots are meant to provide families with a last memory of their loved ones. Inmates can choose to wear their own clothes or use clothes provided by the prison authorities.

Nazira Lajim Hertslet posed smiling with a white floral curtain behind him before he was executed in July for trafficking heroin.

While some critics have blasted Singapore's photoshoots of death row inmates as tasteless and cruel, others have argued that the practice may be preferable over nothing for inmates and their families.

Relatives of past inmates have lamented that the days leading up to their execution can be incredibly stressful for the inmates and their families.

Families are often kept in the dark about their execution date and informed just a few days prior.

Nagaenthran's brother shared that days before the execution, his sibling's mental health rapidly and dramatically deteriorated to the point that he started “hallucinating, incoherent, and imagining his prison cell as a garden in which he is safe.”

On the day of the execution, the inmate is given a chance to say goodbye to their family members and legal representatives.

The hanging, which usually takes less than 30 minutes, is done manually by a team of trained executioners.

The inmate, sometimes accompanied by a nun, is brought to the gallows with their hands tied behind their back and a hood over their head. The executioner places a noose around the inmate's neck and the trapdoor is opened, causing the inmate to fall through and hang until they are pronounced dead.

Amid the ongoing debate and controversy surrounding Singapore's treatment of its death row inmates, the city-state's commitment to capital punishment appears to be unwavering as shown in its latest execution. Advocates, however, remain hopeful that with growing public pressure and changing attitudes, the country's death penalty will eventually be abolished.