Please save my son, begs the distraught mother with tears streaming down her face and her hands turned upwards in a pleading gesture.
With trembling fingers, the ashen-faced Madam Eswari looks through photographs of her beloved son, Prabagaran Srivijayan, 29, who now faces the death penalty for ‘drug trafficking’.*
“He is not someone who would go down a bad path. He will always offer help to those in need. He is definitely innocent. He has not committed any crime. I am 100% sure.”
These are some snippets from a heart wrenching video that sheds light on the story of Madam Eswari, whose son Prabagaran is due to be executed this Friday, 14/07 – the story of a mother who is fighting for her son’s constitutional right to his life.
In spite of her broken heart, Madam Eswari speaks clearly and with great conviction.
But the state’s stance on drug trafficking and the mandatory death penalty is uncompromising. The laws are inflexible and inexorable. If you are found to possess more than 15g of heroin, to the noose you go.
The mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it is anything but simple, for the death penalty is irreversible. And what if, just what if, the system makes an error and convicts an innocent man?
You might be wondering why we bring you – parents of young children – this story.
But, what if it is your child? What if it is your child who happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and fell prey to circumstances? Or what if a moment of folly profoundly alters the entire course of your child’s life? Would you view it in the same light?
Perhaps you might think that such things never happen to children who are ‘raised well’. Wrong. It can happen to anyone. Today, it’s him, that man that is criminalised and whom you will use as an example to show your children what happens when they go awry. Tomorrow, it could happen to anyone.
Background and Current Situation
Madam Eswari has become an unlikely cause célèbre, in her fight against her son’s death penalty. In 2012, Madam Eswari’s son Prabagaran was convicted after 22.4g of diamorphine, a pure form of heroin was found in his car at the Singapore Immigration Checkpoint.
“They could not find his fingerprints on the drugs, or that he had consumed any but the judge ruled him guilty by stating that the car belonged to him,” she cries.
The Singapore law against drug trafficking states that if any unlicensed or controlled drug is found in a vehicle, it is presumed to be in possession of the owner of the car, or of the person who was driving the vehicle. If the person is unable to give a satisfactory or convincing account that he was not aware that the drugs were in his car, he is guilty of drug trafficking.
Prabagaran, the main breadwinner of the family, who supports his elderly aunt, mum and younger brother, has maintained his innocence claiming that he didn’t own the car and was unaware that there were drugs in the car.
At this juncture, the Malaysian courts have called on Singapore to stop its plans to execute Prabagaran as there are concerns that he was not accorded a fair trial. There are reasons to suggest a possibility that it is a wrongful conviction based on circumstantial evidence not corroborated by important witnesses and so on.
Was it a fair trial?
Some may say that the harsh and mandatory death penalty serves as an effective deterrent against such offences. The nation states’s uncompromising stance on crime is the reason it is such a safe city.
Others argue that the death penalty is cruel and barbaric and an individual’s right to life should be upheld as sacrosanct. That the death penalty is incongruous with the fundamental values of a democracy, and is incongruous with civil liberties.
Regardless of your beliefs or stand on the death penalty, Prabagaran’s case throws light on some important issues and compels us to examine our beliefs and reactions to such matters.
When a person is convicted, his identity is reduced to that of his offence. The media provides ample coverage on ‘the drug trafficker’ and criminalises him.
But unbeknownst to the bystander who points his finger in accusation, there may be another side to the story. Perhaps this man who now faces the death penalty, may be a man of oceanic compassion. He could be fighting battles we never knew of and he may be more of a human being than you and I can ever imagine ourselves to be.
He could have been caught in circumstances beyond that which we can fathom or for all we know, he could have been completely innocent and a victim of circumstances. Who are we to judge? We leave that to the court.
Whether or not the scale tips in his favour, his anguished mother would like to remember him as her son, a human being, who had his best days.
I repeat, what if it were your child and you knew from the very core of your being, that he is a good person? Would you not wish for society to remember him as the man who gave in spite of how little he had, as opposed to THE drug trafficker who is to face the death penalty?
In addition, no parent can assume that if you raised your child to steer clear of drugs he will never land himself in a similar situation. An innocuous trip across the border could turn into a catastrophic alteration of anyone’s life should someone decide to throw a packet of heroin into an unsuspecting victim’s car.
While the final outcome of Prabagaran’s death penalty remains undetermined, the one thing that remains is the pure, unadulterated agony that his mother suffers. As mothers, let us keep this mother and her child in our prayers and hope that justice will be served.
*Disclaimer: This article expresses only the opinion of the author.