31 Oct 2005


CANBERRA (Reuters, UK) - Australia's parliament urged Singapore to spare the life of a convicted Australian drug dealer on death row on Monday as the man's lawyer called for direct intervention from Prime Minister John Howard.

Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, was sentenced to death in March 2004 for smuggling almost 400 grams (0.9 lb) of heroin from Cambodia. He was arrested in-transit for Australia at Singapore's Changi airport in December 2002.

Singapore on October 21 rejected Nguyen's last bid for clemency, but his lawyer Lex Lasry, who held talks with Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia Joseph Koh on Monday, said he remained hopeful Singapore could change its mind.

"Our client is alive, there's probably four or five weeks to go, there's plenty of time for the Government of Singapore to reconsider its position," Lasry told Australian radio.

In parliament, the leader of the centre-left Opposition ALP, Kim Beazley, introduced a motion to urge Singapore to show mercy to Nguyen and to consider his full cooperation with police since his arrest.

The motion passed with bi-partisan support in a sign of the growing public campaign against the death sentence, but Foreign Minister Alexander Downer played down the chances the motion would help stop the execution.

"It pains me above all that it is proving extraordinarily difficult to win a reprieve," Downer said. "We remain pessimistic about our prospects of convincing the Singapore President to grant clemency. We will just continue to try."

He said the government had done everything possible to try to save Nguyen's life. But Lasry said it was now time for Howard to make a direct plea to Singapore's government.

"Now is the time that we need its (the government's) leaders to basically speak in direct language and say they don't want this young man executed. I'd like very much to hear such a statement from the Prime Minister," Lasry said.

Australia is a staunch opponent of capital punishment, but Singapore, known for its tough stance on crime, mandates the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking.

No comments: