Interview: “Pannir’s case has the potential to change the general public’s opinion towards the death penalty”

15 February 2022

Interview with the singer Santesh Kumar and Angelia, sister of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, a Malaysian man sentenced to death in Singapore. 

In 2020, ECPM supported the Save Pannir campaign to have the sentence of Pannir Selvam, sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking, commuted. From prison, he writes songs. The talented Santesh Kumar, a pop icon in Malaysia, was touched by his story and decided to sing Pannir's lyrics : this is how their first single Arah Tuju was born and released in April 2021.


Can you tell us how the “Save Pannir” campaign came about? How did ECPM join the project?

Angelia: The Save Pannir campaign was launched by the family, after Pannir received a stay on his execution. It began with a press conference, on July 5th , 2019. We asked people to visit the official website created by Pannir’s family to tell his story, and to sign the petition destined to Halimah Yacob, the president of Singapore, seeking for pardon and support from the general public. ECPM joined the project and played a major role as they provided funds to further increase the scope of the campaign and brought a different concept to reach the public and create a more friendly and relatable movement.

Pannir Selvam Pranthaman

Why was it important for you to participate in this project? Is this the first time you have spoken out publicly against the death penalty?

Santesh: I find it important to participate in this campaign because I personally think that the death penalty is cruel and inhuman. I met many broken families within my community, some have lost their father, their brother, their son… For them, the damage is done, they will have to carry on with their lives without their loved ones. This must stop, so I decided to join the campaign and use my talent to send a message and create more justice, as a citizen of Malaysia.

En haut à gauche, Santesh, en bas, Angelia

Angelia, your brother has been on death row since 2017. In 2019, he escaped his scheduled execution. What is the situation for him? How are you and your family coping with this situation?

Angelia: First of all, we are grateful that he received a stay on his execution, but at the same time, we are very traumatized by the whole situation. Pannir was supposed to be hanged on May 24, 2019. As usual, he was doing his morning prayers and opened his devotional book. We believe that God saved his life. He always tells us that he dissolves his fears and frustrations by meditating in God’s words. Before the pandemic, we could visit him regularly but not anymore.

As an alternative, we receive a call every Sunday, so we all gather around the phone as a family to talk to him. He his devastated and tired of fighting for his faith inside the prison, but he said that he would continue to nurture his mind and to write to try and be published, to create more awareness around the death penalty. He reads and writes a lot, and still hopes that he can breathe the fresh air again someday.

For me and my family, it has been a lot of sacrifices in time and efforts. We reach out to other families in a similar situation and we try to do our best for them, too.


Santesh, in "Arah Tuju", you sing the words written by Pannir: what is the song about? What values did you want to convey by singing these words?

Santesh: The song his about choices in life: there are good choices and bad choices available, but it is always in our hands. The good way won’t be easy, but the easy way will blind our hearts. It turns us blind to what is in our heart. The chorus of the song explains that life is like a ship that has no anchor to stop it, no sail to give it a direction. It emphasizes that the citizens of a nation must equally play a role in a radical change of the society, for the good of everyone, regardless of age, race or gender. Ultimately, the song also aims to help people evaluate what is right or wrong in the journey of life, and to teach them to forgive and give their mercy to people that are seeking redemption.


Since the release of the single on 19 April, the video has already been viewed more than 15,000 times. Have you already been able to gather reactions from your listeners?

Santesh: The launch went well. We are thankful to the media that covered the launch, around 50 people were present during the event. We received very good feedbacks, a lot of compliments, support and encouragements to continue advocating for this cause. The press was quite surprised and curious about the movement, I have been asked whether this launch involved any political figure, but I am yet to receive any comment from the government!

Almost half of the countries in Asia still apply the death penalty today (26/48), while the global trend is towards abolition (almost ¾ of the countries in the world are abolitionist). Making this single is already a great step forward in raising public awareness on this issue. In your opinion, what are the challenges to be taken up in order to advance the abolitionist struggle in your country, and more generally, in Asia?

Angelia and Santesh: The issue lies in the perception: we tend to think that by having the death penalty, criminal will be deterred from crime, even if in the facts, the death penalty doesn’t help in decreasing the crime rate. We hope to address this issue through the song that has been released and through the other ones that are yet to come. The second issue is bureaucracy: sometimes, the will to change is there, but achieving it is long and difficult. Malaysia ratified the UN moratorium on executions, this means they are positive about putting an end to this practice, but we are still far from turning it into a priority. I think we need to urge the members of parliament to speak up about this issue, so we can go further in the fight. These are the two major issues we are facing, especially in Malaysia. 

Now, how can we mobilise to help Pannir? Do you have other plans to continue the fight against the death penalty?

Angelia: We want to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty as a whole in Malaysia, because we want the country to set an example for the other south-eastern Asia countries, particularly our neighbor countries like Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar. First, we are inclined to continue the dialogue with de media and the authorities on this issue. 

Santesh: The second action for us is to approach every member of the parliament. There are 222 of them, and we want each of them to tell us if they are in favor of the abolition of the death penalty. If they are in favor, it is great, if they aren’t, we want them to explain why.


"Pannir's case has the potential to change the general public’s opinion towards inmates on death row or in prison"


Angelia: Continuing on what Santesh mentioned, we are trying to collect some data around the tendency regarding the abolition in the parliament. The name of those who are in favor will be highlighted in green on the website. The aim is to start a conversation among the MPs to abolish the death penalty. Of course, we are also trying to keep publishing the work of Pannir because his case has the potential to change the general public’s opinion towards inmates on death row or in prison, because he is a piece in a much bigger puzzle. If there are other gifted inmates, we will push to bring their talent out to the world, as well.

Santesh: The second album should be out by the end of this year, the songs are written by Pannir. They are sentimental and emotional, this is the direction we are going for. The second singe won’t be a rap or pop song, but a slow ballade. Pannir is a very very talented musician, artist and singer, that’s why I am still trying to help them.

Angelia: To finish, I wanted to say a big Thank you to ECPM for their support in this project, we couldn’t have gone that further otherwise. We hope to collaborate again in the future, as we have the same mission and share the same fight.

Pannir Selvam's latest single, Bukan Sekadar Hikayat was released in September 2021! This time, the lyrics are performed by the committed Malaysian rapper Saint T.F.C. Listen it on your favorite listening platform!


What is the current situation of Pannir Selvam? On November 26, 2021, Pannir lost his last appeal and his case was dismissed, despite the fact that Pannir has assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) by providing information that led to the arrest of a Singaporean man with drug cartel connections, the CNB still denied issuing Pannir the Certificate of Substantive Assistance, which would have reduced his sentence from the death penalty to life in prison.


Today, only a presidential clemency could save Pannir. To help him, sign the petition.