29 Nov 2005

Death row case divides Singapore

Yes I have posted a link to this broadcast very recently however it now includes an MP3 download and a transcript of the broadcast.


Listen to the programme
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Andrew Harding
BBC correspondent
, Singapore
At dawn next Friday, a 73-year-old pensioner will put a rope around the neck of a 25-year-old man, and open a trapdoor.
For the older man, it is a routine which he has now performed more than 500 times.

I'm told he informs each condemned prisoner - in his final moments - that he's being sent to a better place.

Technically the hangman, Darshan Singh, has already retired from the prison service after a long and busy career.

But it turns out that his particular skills are in short supply and regular demand here.

Tiny Singapore - with its zero tolerance approach to drugs - has the highest execution rate, per capita, in the world. And so Mr Singh keeps getting called in.

No clemency

His latest "assignment" is a Vietnamese-born Australian called Van Nguyen, a confessed heroin mule caught in transit at Singapore's airport.

A first-time offender, Van said he had been trying to pay off a debt owed by his brother.

Change is going to take years here. We're a society conditioned to living in fear
Constance Singham
Women's rights activist


The Australian government has asked, firmly but politely, for clemency. No deal.
The Australian media has demanded the same, rather less politely. There have been editorials urging economic sanctions, and pointed questions about the Singaporean government's hardline drugs policy.

Why execute the hapless couriers, but invest heavily in the repulsive regime of Burma, where so much of the world's opium is grown?

None of this seems likely to save Van's life.

In all likelihood, on Friday morning, Van's mother and twin brother will be invited to collect his coffin from the prison.

The hangman and the Australian journalists will go home. The £4.5bn trading partnership between Australia and Singapore will continue as before. And this peaceful, prosperous, strange little country will shrug off the whole incident.

End of story? Well, maybe not.

Winds of change?

A few miles from the prison there is a giant conference centre called Suntec City.

Over the past few days it has been hosting something very un-Singaporean: a sex trade exhibition. Lingerie, electric toys, scantily clad models, and so on.
It is a bold step for a famously straight-laced country where homosexuality and oral sex are still illegal.

And it is a sign, some claim, that this authoritarian government is getting ready to embrace more fundamental changes, that the nanny state plans to turn into, shall we say, a chaperone state.

A western advertising executive summed it up for me recently at a party here. Basically, they want to re-brand Singapore, he said.

To keep the economy growing, they need a more dynamic, more creative workforce, and they have realised that the only way to do that is to give people more freedom.

But how much freedom?

It is hard to generalise, as the subject does not get much coverage in the state-controlled media, but my sense is that an awful lot of Singaporeans believe that killing Van is wrong.

It is one issue which really seems to have galvanised people.

What's more, they are starting to make their views heard. Not on the streets. Unlicensed outdoor protests involving more than four people are illegal here.

'Living in fear'

But check out the internet and you will find a lively debate raging, complete with online petitions and blogs. Sometimes it goes a bit further.

"I'm a bit scared," said a young man called Jason, in a half-whisper. "Maybe I'm paranoid, but everyone here fears repercussions."

We were standing in a crowded hotel function room with about 100 Singaporeans who had responded to an online invitation to a meeting in support of Van.
"Making a public stand isn't exactly part of our culture," said Jason. "But I think in this case the death penalty is a bit extreme, and I feel strongly about this."

Next to him, an older woman called Constance Singham let out a rich belly laugh. She is a women's rights activist and a restaurant owner.

"Change is going to take years here," she said. "It took us 15 years to convince people to take domestic violence seriously.

"It may sound funny," she went on. "But we're a society conditioned to live in fear. Still, as people become more educated and start to ask questions, our government will have to listen to us."

So much for long term.

Right now Singapore's elderly hangman has work to do. Mr Singh doesn't give interviews to the media.

But it is understood that he is keen to retire fully as soon as possible. The trouble is, no one else wants his job.


From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 26 November, 2005 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am Canadian, so very close to Australians.
I find Singapore's law to be unjust and ridiculously harsh and I believe we should continue to try to make the Singapore government see they are wrong in their punishment of such a crime.
However, every country has it's laws. Singapore had this law in effect and this man entered Sinapore knowing the laws, knowing the consequences. Unfortunate as it is, he must pay the price as would a local resident breaking the same law.
If someone entered my country and knowingly broke my country's law, they must pay the price as set out by my country and I would be very upset if we made an exception because he was a foreigner.

HongKonger said...

It's true that every country have its own law, but doesn't mean the law itself is just.

We're now watching a young man (even younger me!) going to be murdered by a rogue state using its unjust now. And how could "anonymous" claim he must pay the price which is actually an unjustified and ridiculously inflated price?

You're bloody heartless, Mr. Anonymous.

Ashamed to be Singaporean said...

I may be sixteen, but I know what's wrong and cruel and what's not. It is wrong to use such cruel laws against a crime that certainly does not deserve death, and therefore it is wrong that such a penalty is meted out, despite the country of origin.

I may be a Singaporean, but I definitely do not agree with most of PAP's rules because I know that most of them is to keep themselves in power and keep us as obedient, law-biding (albeit unjust laws) citizens, by instilling fear. We're living in fear throughout our lives as Singaporeans and in Singapore.

It may appear that most Singaporeans do not care about such things or perhaps, even support the death penalty, but be forewarned, they have gone through the Singapore education system, and have been brainwashed to follow text-book answers for questions such as "Is the death penalty neccessary for drug traffickers?"

the second anonymous said...

so a country that meets out its law is considered to be a rogue state? grow up!

i agree with anonymous. if the laws that have been constituted are good enough for the locals, why not a foreigner?

why is it so hard for the australians to understand that a crime has been committed away from their shores and their rules no longer apply? van is not the first drug trafficker to be arrested. why isn’t the australian government doing anything about their own traffickers?

From the Age said...

An observation in today's Age newspaper: "In my opinion a tattooed Vietnamese kid with a shaved head is simply not a good kid. That is why the Vietnamese community [in Australia] is not being more vocal [in opposing the execution]. And yes, I've lived there and I speak Vietnamese and so I do have a good idea. I believe that to have tattoos on show and a shaved head means a lot, and none of it is good! That is why they [the media] keep pushing the photos with his nice hair etc."

hongkonger said...

I will not backtrack from my previous statement which describe Singapore as a rogue state - a state which do not respect basic human right deserve this title with no question. What is the difference of Singapore and Afghanistan under Taliban, consider their utter contempt on the principal of right-to-life under universal human rights declaration?

Answer: Taliban kills in the name of Islam; Singapore kills in the name of War on Drugs

Outrages.

Anonymous said...

a rogue state is one where its laws are not in line with accepted international standards.

Anonymous said...

One man's death or the lives of hundreds?
Dear parliamentarians of Australia, .Many of you are concerned with the impending execution of Nguyen Tuong Van. You have also appealed to our Government to spare him. .Many Singaporeans understand your concern and compassion for him and his family. .I would like to share with you my personal observations after having served for nine years as president of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting a drug-free Singapore and running both preventive education and rehabilitation programmes for drug addicts. .I have personally witnessed the scourge of heroin addiction destroying the lives of not only the addicts, but those of their spouses and children. The 396g of heroin that Nguyen Tuong Van carried would destroy hundreds of lives if sold in the drug market. .In the past, before we launched our concerted efforts against drugs, some drug pushers were caught "promoting" drugs outside the gates of some schools. We used to have to deal with heroin addicts as young as 12 years. But to drug syndicates, smugglers and pushers, they are only doing "business". To them, that innocent children and innocent people are hurt is incidental. .Today, the problem of drug addiction has been substantially eradicated from Singapore. Our children are able to walk our streets safely, without being offered drugs. We have been able to achieve this outcome and have a virtually drug-free Singapore because the community and the Government have been working together relentlessly to stamp out drugs. .We have a "zero tolerance" attitude towards drugs. .Reviewing our progress, we realise that one of the most important and effective measure adopted was the policy of dealing firmly and sternly with drug smugglers and pushers. The strong probability of being interdicted, coupled with the certainty of stern punishment, have served as strong disincentives and deterrence to drug traffickers. .The fact that our law imposes the capital punishment on drug traffickers caught with more than 15g of heroin discourages traffickers from carrying out their illicit activities, as they know they will lose their lives when they are caught. .This policy of capital punishment for such drug trafficking is widely communicated; every airline announces this to all passengers as their planes approach Singapore. .While many Singaporeans sympathise with the family of Nguyen Tuong Van, we also sympathise with and grieve for the many innocent spouses and children whose lives have been destroyed and made living hells by the drugs trafficked by people like Nguyen. .Nguyen has exhausted all his avenues for legal remedies, including his appeal for presidential clemency. It is a sad end for him and a sad outcome for his family. But we should all remember that he walked down this treacherous path voluntarily and of his own accord. He knew the danger. He took the gamble. .I hope this letter helps you to understand the feelings of the people of Singapore. .We maintain this anti-drugs policy to protect our society, our families and our children. It is not intended to insult or cast contempt on anyone. Australians and Singaporeans can and should remain close friends despite this unfortunate episode.
Dr Loo Choon Yong
This letter was sent by Nominated Member of Parliament and president of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, Dr Loo Choon Yong, to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia via the Australian High Commissioner in Singapore yesterday. Dr Loo is also the executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group.

Ashamed to be Singaporean said...

Propaganda. The hundreds of lives can choose whether to take the drugs or not. No one's pointing a gun at their head to buy the drugs anyway. Killing the mules is just inhuman, and does not solve the ultimate problem of drugs still being produced and reaching the addicts through more mules, who are willing to endanger their lives because of poverty or threat.

"A rogue state is one where its laws are not in line with accepted international standards."
I think a rogue state, is one where its laws are made such that unneccessary lives are lost to solve problems in ways that do not nip it in the bud, and thus lives will still continue to be lost in this freaky place while the problem persists. And yet the leaders of such a rogue state declares it as the right way to go and is determined to mete out such a useless policy, because they belittle life, as seen when they belittle lives of males born in this country by enslaving them with policies and rules such as NS and passports made to trap them in Singapore forever, which are also brainless solutions to preventing the current bad brain drain problem in Singapore. The leaders are non-thinking jerks.

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