27 Oct 2005

Nguyen death penalty case not closed: Lawyers

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This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.


The World Today - ABC
Thursday, 27 October , 2005 12:10:00

Reporter: Catherine McGrath

ELEANOR HALL: We go first today to the fate of the Australian man on death row in Singapore. Lawyers for Van Nguyen have said this morning that they do not see the statement from the Singapore High Commission this morning as an indication that the case is closed.

Singapore High Commissioner to Australia, Joseph Koh, today issued a statement saying he understands that the family of Mr Nguyen find the death penalty decision hard to accept, but that Singapore's strict anti-drug laws are well-known, and send a clear message to drug syndicates.

The Australian Government this week indicated it intends to appeal again to Singapore's Foreign Minister, but both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have said they believe the case has little hope.

To discuss the latest developments, we’re joined in our Canberra studio by Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath.

So, Catherine, how important is this statement from the Singapore High Commission?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, Eleanor, I think it’s important in the sense that there has been no public comment at all from the Government of Singapore since the decision was handed down on Friday to reject the clemency appeal.

Now, this statement comes from the Singapore High Commissioner here as you said, Joseph Koh, but it will have been thoroughly checked, thoroughly endorsed and effectively written by the Singapore Government.

So every word that is being issued here in Australia is issued with a direct political message too. And the word coming out of this in this statement sends a very clear message that the case has been considered, and was carefully considered, but that the result is, in effect, the result is in place.

Now, it doesn’t…



ELEANOR HALL: Is it a message then to the leaders in our country that there’s not much point in them making extra appeals?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, certainly there’s no indication here, there’s no comment on an appeal.

But let me read to you some of the words in the statement.

It says, “Our strict,” the Singaporeans are saying, “Our strict anti-drug laws send a clear message to drug syndicates.”

It also says that Mr Nguyen was given a fair hearing throughout the legal process and his appeal for clemency was carefully considered.

The statement goes on to say, the High Commissioner here is saying, “I understand this decision is difficult for the family to accept, but the stand the Government has taken is consistent with the firm position that Singapore has taken in similar cases.”

So, Eleanor, it does not reflect on the fact that there are some papers, some appeals still going ahead by the Australian Government.

But certainly, the message on face value is: Singapore has looked at this, given it careful consideration and the decision is there.

ELEANOR HALL: So what has the response been then from the lawyers for Van Nguyen?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, the lawyers this morning, Eleanor, have been carefully considering this statement and they’re, they’re being reasonably optimistic. They’re saying this is just a statement of the current facts as we know them. And they’re still going ahead with their appeals.

Now they’re, as we’ve heard from them in the media in the last few days, they’re making definite statements on the value of Mr Nguyen as a possible witness in cases here in Australia that could give vital evidence, they say, in prosecuting drug syndicates in this country. And also, they’re saying, the fact that he is remorseful, the fact that he can undergo rehabilitation and has a completely clean record.

Now, I spoke to one of the lawyers this morning, and we’ll hear now from Mr Nguyen’s lawyer, Melbourne lawyer Julian McMahon.

JULIAN MCMAHON: The statement is a response from the Singapore High Commission to all the media inquiries that, no doubt, he’s been getting, and it’s a general response just restating the Government position, but it doesn’t deal with the issues that we’ve been raising or the issues that have been raised on our behalf by the Government over the last year or so.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: So does that give you any reason for hope that those issues will still be considered?

JULIAN MCMAHON: Oh yes, I’m sure that they will be.

It’s been well publicised through the media that Mr Downer is intending to go back to the Singapore Government, and I don’t see that this media statement by the Singapore High Commission is an attempt to pre-empt that at all. It’s just stating the Government’s position.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you think that the Government response is going to have any effect, given that the previous attempts have failed?

JULIAN MCMAHON: Well, obviously I’m hopeful that it will. We’ve now raised the profile of what we consider some of the key factors, and I think that everyone involved will have another closer look.

I mean, the Singapore Cabinet is renowned for the intelligence of its members, and when its closest regional friend urges it to reconsider a matter based in policy, and in law, and with a background of close friendship, I’d have no doubt that they would pay close attention to that and reconsider the matter.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the lawyer for Van Nguyen, Julian McMahon.

Now, Catherine, do we know whether, how, do we know yet whether Van Nguyen himself has responded to this statement, whether he’s even seen the statement from the High Commission?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: No, well he wouldn’t have seen it yet, Eleanor, as we’ve said, the lawyers have just been studying it. It will be passed onto him in the normal, normal information transfer that goes on.

His lawyers were saying this morning, actually, that he is holding up very well and, but he is hopeful himself, Mr Nguyen is hopeful himself that there might be a positive response.

Now, we heard there Julian McMahon emphasising the Australia and Singapore relationship, emphasising that the lawyers want the Australian Government, as Singapore’s closest non-ASEAN friend in this region, to make a strong statement to say to Singapore that it’s important for the Australian relationship that Australia feels very strongly about this.

Now, it’s not clear at all that Australia will be taking that line. Clearly, the lawyers feel that’s a valuable line.

What the Australian Government has said is they will put in another appeal, they will speak to George Yeo, the Foreign Minister, and, but publicly, as you know, our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Prime Minister, John Howard, have said that they don’t feel there’s a lot of hope in this case.

Remember, Singapore has had this position for a very long time. It feels the importance of sending the message of tough on drugs is an important one, a consistent one.

So politically, Singapore doesn’t want to be seen to be changing its rule for an Australian when it hasn’t been changing its rule for Singaporeans or other people from other ASEAN countries, who might be in Singapore.

So I think it’s a very, very hard ask and the timeframe now is getting quite close. Singapore does its hangings on Fridays. It’s a ritualistic thing there that that’s when they happen.

There’s no indication yet of exactly when Van Nguyen’s case would be coming forward. His lawyers were originally told, after the clemency appeal was rejected on Friday, that it could be four to six weeks, but they’re not going to get much notice. And the lobbying from the lawyers is going to intensify.

ELEANOR HALL: Catherine McGrath, our Chief Political Correspondent, thank you

Below is an extract from a related article from news.com.au

International campaign

However, while Singaporean representatives have played down the chances of a successful appeal for clemency, an international campaign to spare Nguyen from the death penalty is gathering steam.

Mr Lasry's colleague, Melbourne barrister Julian McMahon, said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was planning to continue talks with the Singapore Government and he was hopeful these would be positive.

"We've now raised the profile of what we consider some of the key factors and I think that everyone involved will have another closer look," Mr McMahon said on ABC radio.

The Federal Opposition has made a separate bid, with shadow foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd yesterday speaking to Mr Koh, and writing to the country's foreign minister.

Nearly all Federal Members of Parliament are expected to sign a petition addressed to the Singaporean President and Prime Minister pleading for him to be spared the gallows.

Julia Gillard, Senator George Brandis, Bruce Baird, Senator Joe Ludwig and Laurie Ferguson are among those who have signed so far. About 200 workers around Parliament House are also expected to sign.

The Tasmanian and Queensland Governments have now joined Victoria in calling on Singapore to spare Nguyen.

Mr Lasry said his client needed all State, Territory and Federal Governments to pass motions seeking clemency.

International human rights agencies Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission are also appealing for compassion.

Amnesty International has asked its global network of more than 1.8 million activists in 140 countries to lobby on behalf of Nguyen, while the Asian Human Rights Commission has called on President Nathan for a moratorium on his execution.

Local civil rights group Think Centre will also today hold a press conference in Singapore, detailing its legal case and accuse leaders of the island nation of imposing a "disproportionate and cruel" punishment on him.

It marks only the second time in Singapore's 40-year history that a death penalty case has led to a public outcry.

The first case involved champion athlete Shanmugan Murugesu, described as a "Death Row confidant" of Nguyen. He was convicted of smuggling marijuana and hanged in May.

Nguyen's lawyers said the groundswell of support they had received from Australian governments and international human rights agencies was fantastic and would help their appeal for clemency.

Condemned ... Van Tuong and his twin brother Khoa Nguyen in happier times as children / File

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