20 Nov 2005

Death penalty resentment growing in Singapore

This is a transcript from AM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 08:00 on ABC Local Radio.

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

TranscriptSaturday, 19 November , 2005 08:13:25
Reporter: Nick McKenzie

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Lawyers for Melbourne man Van Nguyen are in Singapore arranging to meet with their client for what's likely to be the last time, after learning that he'll be hanged on December the 2nd.

Lawyers Lex Lasry and Julian McMahon say they aren't giving up efforts to save their client's life, and they plan to meet with diplomatic officials in Singapore.

But while the grim story has generated intense media coverage and political reaction here in Australia, it continues to generate minimal coverage in Singapore.

Still, a Singaporean human rights lawyer has told AM resentment against the death penalty is slowly growing in his country.

Nick McKenzie reports.

NICK MCKENZIE: Van Nguyen's legal team have arrived in Singapore.

His family and friends will fly over shortly.

They're now preparing their final goodbye messages, although his lawyers insist that while Nguyen is alive, there's still a chance to save him.

A Singaporean lawyer who's felt their frustration is M Ravi.

He's had two clients executed for drug trafficking, including Shanmugam Murugesu, who was hanged in Changi prison in May.

M RAVI: From the experience that I have seen from Shanmugam's case, that going to the prison, everyone just simply just cry, and Shanmugam's mother was banging her head.

NICK MCKENZIE: M Ravi says the Singaporean media, which is heavily influenced by the state, has given Nguyen's case very little coverage, and to much of the public, his is just another story of a drug trafficker facing Singapore's gallows.

M RAVI: Absolutely biased and so unprofessionally covered, and which is why it is not surprising that Singapore has reached 147th in the press freedom index. You know, whatever campaign that we have done – my letter to United Nations, Phillip Ersten (phonetic), nothing has been published. It's only what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got to say, what the Government has got to say, the kind of twisted arguments about western liberalism and eastern wisdom.

NICK MCKENZIE: M Ravi says with the issue generating minimal public interest, there's very little hope for Nguyen.

M RAVI: If the Government of Singapore don't even give a damn to Mr Howard, so what are they going to do in Singapore?

NICK MCKENZIE: But despite the Singaporean Government's refusal to budge and the minimal mainstream media coverage, lawyer M Ravi says local resentment, however marginal, is growing to the way the death penalty is handed out.

M RAVI: The Singapore Government is very afraid that this itself will become an election issue because there seems to be quite a number of discussions since Shanmugam's case.

Since May this year there has been unprecedented debates and two journalists have also spoken up during Shanmugam's case that mandatory death sentence is something that the Government should reconsider. And the fact that a High Court judge formerly, former High Court judge has written quite a number of articles on this issue.

NICK MCKENZIE: Lawyer M Ravi is urging the Australian Government to engage in a sustained campaign to fight the use of the death penalty in the region.

M RAVI: We have Australia as another democratic institution, close to Asia, which can give us the support and also be a spokesman on this issue. They don't have to upset Asian nations, we are Asians, we can handle this issues, but please, do your part.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Human rights lawyer M Ravi speaking to Nick McKenzie.

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