30 Nov 2005

Outcry over death penalty blurs line between fact and fiction: High Commissioner

By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia

Singapore's High Commissioner in Australia Joseph Koh said the outcry over the death penalty for drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van had made it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

In an article published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, he noted that many Australians strongly oppose Singapore's decision not to commute the death sentence.

While he respected these views, some facts remained.

For instance, contrary to some beliefs, Singapore has not breached any international law as there isn't any international agreement to abolish the death penalty.

And while some Australians feels the death penalty has not deterred drug trafficking, statistics in Singapore show otherwise.

Mr Koh also refuted arguments that the Australian drug trafficker was an unsuspecting victim.

While Nguyen may not be a hardened criminal, he is not an unsuspecting victim either.

He knew what he was doing and the penalty if caught.

Had he succeeded, Nguyen would have made a lot of money.

Some have also pleaded for leniency for Nguyen as they believe he can testify against the drug syndicates.

But Mr Koh said the information that Nguyen provided was in fact intended to mislead and delay investigations by the authorities.

Responding to allegations that Singapore connives with drug lords in Myanmar by investing in the Myanmar Fund, Mr Koh said Singapore had made clear its investments in Myanmar were open and above board.

Stressing that Singapore values its good relations with Australia, Mr Koh added that both countries shared a common belief in the sanctity of the law.

The High Commissioner said Australians who oppose the death sentence on Nguyen would not agree with everything he has said.

But he hoped they would accept that the Singapore government had a responsibility to protect the many lives that would otherwise be destroyed by the drug syndicates, and to prevent Singapore from becoming a conduit for illicit drugs in the region.

Mr Koh said Singapore was touched by the pain and anguish of Nguyen's mother, but if it wavered in its firm position against drug trafficking, many more families would be shattered.

Nguyen's execution has been scheduled for Friday December 2. - CNA/ch

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