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My name is Sangkari Pranthaman, elder sister to Pannir Selvam who is currently on death row in Changi Prison for transporting sex medications which later turned out to be heroin.
Living each day knowing that my sweet, young brother may be put to death any moment is a torture. Peace and happiness have been lost; my family and I have been struggling with this situation for five years now. We miss our beloved brother every day.
Growing up, and a youthful folly
The six of us grew up together under the strict supervision of our parents. Like many others, my parents taught us to do good deeds and be spiritual. We go to church every Sunday and commit to most church activities. I have wonderful memories of my childhood with Pannir and our other siblings. We’ve always known Pannir to be a kind-hearted soul, ever willing to lend a hand to those in need. Even as a kid, Pannir would always take the blame, even if it meant getting caned by my father for our mistakes.
I’ve seen my brother extend this kindness to everyone. Pannir used to buy drinks for construction workers he saw working under the hot sun. When his motorbike was once hit by a car from behind, he got up and wished the Chinese uncle a “Happy Father’s Day” and just brushed the incident off. He was also active at school, participating in sports—he was a school runner for ACS Ipoh. On top of that, Pannir was a gifted musician who played the drums, guitar and keyboard in our church band during his teenage years.
A year after graduating from high school, my brother left home to work in Johore as a warehouse assistant. His hard work paid off; he was promoted within three months. But he was short on friends. All his time went to work, and he would pull double or even triple shifts to earn more money.
The money wasn’t just for himself, but for his family and others. Pannir donated to the Singapore Heart Foundation. He also provided a monthly allowance for my younger sister during her tertiary education in Kuala Lumpur and even bought her a second-hand car so she could travel safely.
My brother eventually moved to Singapore to work as a security guard. I called him weekly. I believe things started to go wrong then, isolated as he was, away from home and family.
Imprisoned in Singapore’s Changi Prison, Pannir feels guilty for putting his family in this situation. I’ve told him that we’ll do our best to fight a second chance for him until the end
In August 2014, Pannir took a month off from work in order to renew his soon-to-expire passport. That was when he met a man, who went by the name “Anand”, in a gambling den. Youthful folly led Pannir to blindly trust someone he’d known for a mere three weeks.
Anand asked Pannir to smuggle what he said were prohibited sex medicines across the border into Singapore. But it turned out to be a lie—the supposed sex medicines were actually heroin, a classified drug. My brother was charged with trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine (another name for heroin), and sentenced to death.
One mistake might now cost my younger brother his life. Imprisoned in Singapore’s Changi Prison, Pannir feels guilty for putting his family in this situation. We’ve visited him every month. I’ve told him that we’ll do our best to fight a second chance for him until the end.
Time behind bars
Since his arrest and eventual sentencing, Pannir has been educating himself. He writes letters and draws birthday cards for us. Despite the darkness and isolation of his cell, he encourages us to be good Christians, to be loyal citizens, and to offer help to those in need without expecting anything in return. He keeps up-to-date with current social issues in the world, especially in Malaysia and Singapore. When we visit, he talks about Bitcoin, CRISPR technology (a tool for editing genomes), AI technology, and more.
Even prison hasn’t doused Pannir’s burning desire to help others. He helps his fellow death row inmates with writing letters to their families, explains legal terms and advises others on how to write appeal letters. For willing listeners, he shares his love of Jesus and prays for them. As a Malaysian, he was proud to see the peaceful change of government last year—but felt guilty for his failure to serve his country.
There’s a lot my brother can still offer to society. But time might be running out.
In May 2019, my family received notices from both the office of the President of the Republic of Singapore and the prison, saying that Pannir’s plea for clemency had been rejected, and that the date of his execution had been set. That week, we were allowed to visit him daily (as opposed to the weekly visits most death row inmates receive).
When we saw him, my brother seemed to have accepted that he would be executed, and tried to convince us to stay calm as we wept for our dying family. He asked to be visited by officials from the Malaysian embassy in Singapore. He sought their help to raise awareness among young Malaysians so they would not make the same mistake as he did.
A family’s love
If love and dedication can be measured, it’s in the trips we’ve made, from Kuala Lumpur to Changi Prison in Singapore, every month without fail in these past five years. I now know Singapore’s public transport routes and schedule by heart. We’ve sold our lorry and bikes to pay for travel expenses and lawyers’ fees. We used to be a humble middle-class family; now we’re much poorer and a little broken.
As his elder sister, I know the thought of not being able to save him will haunt me for the rest of my life. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t wonder what more I can do for him. My whole being has been filled with sadness and sorrow.
We used to be a humble middle-class family; now we’re much poorer and a little broken
Pannir’s death sentence isn’t just a punishment for him, but for our whole family. Even though it’s been five years, my parents are still in shock.
My father, Pranthaman, is 56 years old, and is a pioneering ministries church pastor. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. Since we were young, he taught us to be always remember our Creator and be thankful to Him in any kind of situation we face.
My mum, Sarah, is also 56 years old. She’s a sweet and humble person, and very devout. She’s lost a lot of weight now. Knowing that someone is going to take her son’s life is the hardest thing a mother could go through. My mother prays even harder now, day and night, for God to save her son’s life. Whenever it hits her that Pannir will never again get to eat the mutton curry that she makes—it’s his favourite—she breaks down in tears.
This is Pannir’s first run-in with law, and we strongly believe that his kind heart and naivety has been taken advantage of. Before his sentencing, the Attorney General’s Chambers refused to issue him a Certificate of Cooperation, which would have allowed the judge to choose not to sentence him to death, because Pannir didn’t have information that would have helped investigators. To help him, I turned investigator, gathering information on recruiters of drug mules and looking for “Anand”. We turned over all the details we could find to the authorities in Singapore, hoping that this information could help my brother qualify for a Certificate of Cooperation. My brother also wrote a 27-page clemency petition to Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob, which I spent a full night typing out before we submitted it.
Our request for a Certificate of Cooperation was met with a written rejection from the Attorney General’s Chambers in April 2019.
A glimpse of hope
Capital punishment is an irreversible act that violates a human’s right to life. We were bitterly disappointed that our hard work to save Pannir did not result in a Certificate of Cooperation. But I believe that Pannir’s kindness and generosity has been rewarded in some way.
At the eleventh hour, just a day before Pannir was due to be executed, two lawyers in Singapore showed up to represent him in court. If it hadn’t been for them, my brother would have been unrepresented. And then there was another miracle: Singapore’s Court of Appeal granted my brother a stay of execution. This stay gave my brother a last-minute reprieve so he could get legal advice and file a challenge against the clemency process.
Efforts to save Pannir continue. If given a second chance in life, he wants to work with prison outreach officers to educate others on drug abuse prevention and work to support prison rehabilitation programmes. My brother is only 32 years old—there can be many years ahead for him. A second chance for Pannir could save many youngsters out there, before it’s too late for them.
If you believe that killing someone or taking away their life is awful, then you shouldn’t support the death penalty. My family and I apologise to the people of Singapore for my brother’s mistake, and urge the government of Singapore to grant him a Certificate of Cooperation that will provide him a lifeline.
Please consider signing this petition to the President of Singapore and show your support for Pannir Selvam.
Click here to read an abolitionist’s perspective on Singapore’s death penalty for drugs.