Australian man to be executed in Singapore

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Supporters of convicted Australian drug trafficker, Van Nguyen, gathered outside the State Library in Melbourne yesterday to display thousands of messages of opposition to his death sentence.

Callers to talkback radio in Melbourne were overwhelmingly against the death penalty of Nguyen, who immediately admitted his guilt and has cooperated with authorities since being caught smuggling heroin into Singapore. Many called for a boycott of Singaporean products.

25-year-old Nguyen was arrested at Changi Airport in 2002 for carrying heroin and sentenced to death in March. Nguyen claims he carried the 396 grams of heroin strapped to his body in an attempt to pay off his brother Khoa’s $30,000 legal debts.

The Singapore government have announced they will execute Nguyen at dawn on December 2nd. Singapore President S. R. Nathan rejected Nguyen’s clemency four weeks ago. The Melbourne salesman was sentenced to death under Singapore law which determines a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of possessing 15 grams of heroin or more.

Nguyen’s mother was informed on Thursday by registered mail from the Singapore prisons service of the execution date. The letter stated that she should start making funeral arrangements. She will get to see her son in the three days leading up to the execution.

Despite repeated pleas for clemency from many thousands of supporters; religious groups; human rights organisations; the Pope; and the Australian Government – including Prime Minister, John Howard – Singapore officials have said Nguyen’s execution is irreversible.

Mr Howard had argued that Nguyen should be spared, citing mitigating circumstances in his case which pointed to the fact that he was not a serial drug trafficker but had merely been trying to pay off his brother’s debts.

The Victorian Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, says the Singaporean Government has shown no compassion whatsoever in its treatment of Van Nguyen and his family.

“What’s happening is brutal, is inappropriate. I, and the Victorian Government, vehemently oppose the death penalty in any circumstances”, he told ABC Radio. “This is a young kid who has assisted the police all the way… In any other country, he would get a discount in relation to the penalty. But because there is a mandatory death penalty for drug offences in Singapore, this young man may well be executed. It is just grossly inappropriate.”

“Singapore maintains that capital punishment is a criminal justice issue; it is the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to include capital punishment within its criminal justice system,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Singapore argues that there was no international consensus that capital punishment should be abolished. At the most recent meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 66 countries dissociated themselves from a resolution calling for the abolition of capital punishment.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong affirmed Singapore’s position by saying that it has to “stand firm on drugs to protect its citizens from the scourge and to ensure the country does not become a conduit for the trafficking of illicit drugs.”

In reply to a letter appealing for clemency from his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said: “Mr Nguyen imported almost 400gm of pure heroin which would have supplied more than 26,000 doses to drug addicts.”

No one will be permitted to see Nguyen on the morning of his execution. His body will be released to his mother.

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