Singapore to go ahead and hang Aussie drug runner

Singapore on Thursday stood firm on its decision to hang a 25-year-old Australian drug runner, saying he got a fair trial and was fully aware of the city-state’s tough anti-narcotics laws.

Nguyen Tuong Van, a Melbourne resident of Vietnamese origin, is now headed for the gallows following Singapore President SR Nathan’s rejection of clemency appeals by the Australian government.

Executions are carried out on Fridays in Singapore, but prison officials declined to say when Nguyen’s hanging would take place.

M Ravi, a Singaporean lawyer and activist who has handled other death-penalty cases, said the execution could be carried out on November 11, three weeks from the rejection of the clemency petition.

Ravi said he would ask President Nathan to convene a constitutional tribunal to review what he said was a “breach of natural justice” in the Nguyen case.

Failing that, Ravi said he would file a complaint before a United Nations office handling extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

In Australia, Nguyen’s lawyers were still hoping for a reprieve and politicians urged Singapore to spare the life of the former sales clerk who told police he agreed to carry the drugs to pay off his twin brother’s debts.

But Singapore’s High Commissioner (ambassador) to Australia Joseph Koh said in a statement that Nguyen “was given a fair hearing throughout the legal process and his appeal for clemency was carefully considered”.

“After taking into account all factors, the president, on the advice of the Cabinet, was unable to make an exception to Mr Nguyen’s case.

“I understand that this decision is difficult for his family to accept. But the stand the government has taken on Mr Nguyen is consistent with the firm position that Singapore has taken on similar cases in the past involving Singaporeans and foreigners alike.

“Not everyone may agree with our view, but I hope they will understand Singapore’s position.”

Nguyen was sentenced to die for smuggling 400g of heroin into Singapore in 2002.

Australia, where capital punishment is outlawed, had lobbied for months against his execution. Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell has also asked Pope Benedict XVI to intervene to save Nguyen’s life.

But Singapore envoy Koh said his country took a serious view of all drug offences.

“We weigh the rights of offenders against the rights of victims and the rights of the community to live and work in safety and security.

“Our strict anti-drug laws send a clear message to drug syndicates not to conduct their criminal activities in Singapore or through Singapore.
Our policy has been well-publicised and Mr Nguyen was well aware of it.”

The death sentence is mandatory for trafficking more than 15g of heroin, 30g of cocaine and 500g of cannabis, as well as for other crimes such as murder, treason, kidnapping and certain firearm offences.

Nguyen’s plight initially attracted little attention in Australia, particularly when compared to the case of Shapelle Corby, the beauty student whose 20-year sentence for cannabis smuggling in Indonesian sparked outrage in the country earlier this year.

But since his death sentence was confirmed last week, a succession of high-profile figures have called for Singapore to show clemency.

The opposition Australian Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd said while he had the utmost respect for the Singapore legal system, he would continue to appeal to the city-state’s government to exercise mercy provisions.

But federal government backbencher Wilson Tuckey said he had no sympathy for Nguyen and if his death sentence was commuted then “every drug baron in the world will say next time you want a drug mule you use an Aussie”. - AFP

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