24 Jul 2004

Battle to stop a hanging

Yet again the death penalty and the proceedings surrounding such a court case disappear in the local Singaporean press. The death penalty in Singapore IS clouded in secracy. We have to go to the international press to hear about the decisions that are being made under our very noses. Singapore Press Holdings and the so called journalists who work for them in Singapore have become sick with fear.

Norrie Ross
law reporter

A YOUNG Melbourne man due to hang in Singapore for drug crimes will get one of his last chances to save his life next week.

Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, will appeal against his conviction and sentence in Singapore's Court of Appeal on Monday, in a hearing that is not expected to last even the day.
Nguyen, a former salesman, has been on death row for five months since he was convicted of importing nearly 400 grams of heroin in December 2002.

He was arrested at Changi International Airport while boarding a Qantas flight to Australia with the drugs strapped to his back and in his backpack.

He was in transit from Cambodia, and his trial heard he told police he carried the drugs to repay $30,000 in debts accumulated by his twin brother.

One of his Melbourne lawyers, barrister Julian McMahon, said yesterday the legal team had one aim. "Our objective all along has been to save his life, and that remains our objective," he said.

Mr McMahon said Nguyen was bearing up as well as could be expected in the circumstances, though his family was very distressed.

There is a mandatory death penalty in Singapore for anyone aged over 18 convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin.

If Nguyen's appeal fails, his last chance of avoiding the gallows would be to try to win a plea for clemency to Singapore's president.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has already told Singapore that Australia does not want Nguyen to be hanged, but most clemency appeals fail.

Nguyen's other Melbourne lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, said the appeal would focus on deficiencies in the evidence against his client and a challenge to the constitutional basis of the death penalty in Singapore.

Mr Lasry said Nguyen was a first offender and, because of his age, if he committed the same offence in Australia his sentence would typically be between five and 10 years in jail.

If Nguyen is hanged, he would be the fourth Australian to be executed in an Asian country on drug charges.

In the most notorious case, Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow were executed in Malaysia in 1986.

Queenslander Michael McAuliffe was hanged in Malaysia in June 1993 after serving eight years in jail.

© Herald and Weekly Times

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