3 Nov 2005

Singapore affirms commitment to Nguyen death sentence

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 - Thursday, 3 November , 2005 12:30:00
Reporter: Lynn Bell
HAMISH ROBERTSON: The attempts by the Australian Government, and the Opposition, to save the life of Melbourne man Van Nguyen, who faces execution in Singapore have suffered a serious setback.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, has written to the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Shadow Minister, Kevin Rudd, affirming the Singaporean Government's commitment to apply the death penalty in this case.

Twenty-five-year-old Van Nguyen was convicted of trafficking heroin in March last year, and is expected to be hanged within weeks.

But Van Nguyen's barrister, Lex Lasry, says he will not be deterred, and will continue the fight for his client's life to be spared.

Lynn Bell reports.

LYNN BELL: As the days pass, Van Nguyen's mother waits for even the smallest sign that her son's life might be spared.

But this morning, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, could offer little hope.

Nine days ago, he wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Singapore, George Yeo, asking that in this case clemency be granted.

But Mr Downer says his request has been refused.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Last night I received a letter back from George Yeo saying that whilst the Singapore Government understood the concern of the Australian Government and the Australian people, all of these arguments have been carefully considered by the Singapore Cabinet, and that they wouldn't change their minds, they were going to proceed with the execution.

LYNN BELL: The letter from George Yeo says:

"We have a responsibility to prevent Singapore from becoming a conduit for the trafficking of illicit drugs in the region. Mr Nguyen imported almost 400 grams of pure heroin, which would have supplied more than 26,000 doses to drug addicts."

Van Nguyen's barrister, Lex Lasry, says the letter is extremely disappointing.

But he told ABC Radio, he will not be deterred, and will continue to argue against Van Nguyen's execution.

LEX LASRY: There's no question it's a setback, I don't want to dispute that for a moment. We're very disappointed that they've taken their position, but look we have put a document to the Singapore High Commissioner on Monday, the document that I presented to him from Julian McMahon and myself, and that hasn't yet been responded to, and there is still one other aspect in relation to his police assistance that might be able to be pursued, and other than that we will keep making the case.

LYNN BELL: Labor's spokesman for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, has also received a letter from George Yeo.

KEVIN RUDD: This letter from the Singaporean Foreign Minister is disappointing, it's extremely disappointing. But I for one am a human being, and I don’t intend to give up on this kid. He's a young Australian man whose life is at stake here. We have, since the dispatch of the letter to the Foreign Minister, had a resolution of the Australian Parliament, which is to be conveyed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and buy the Prime Minister to the Government of Singapore.

LYNN BELL: The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, is also refusing to give up of Van Nguyen, but he says it wouldn't be fair to create false hope, and he notes these letters do convey bad news.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We need to keep exploring legal options to see whether there's anything more we can do. We'll leave no stone unturned, but we remain very pessimistic about this case.

LYNN BELL: Barrister Lex Lasry says Van Nguyen's mother is finding the news very difficult.

LEX LASRY: Oh, she's obviously extremely distressed, because she can see what's coming, and it's, as I've said plenty of times, it's unimaginable how she would be coping with this.

LYNN BELL: Mr Downer says he understands clemency may be granted in Singapore, if a condemned person can provide evidence which leads to a significant conviction.

But in his letter to Mr Downer, George Yeo says the Singaporean Cabinet carefully considered all relevant factors of Mr Ngyen's case, including his sad personal circumstances, and his value as a potential source of information.

Van Nguyen's barrister, Lex Lasry, remains committed to his client, and he's asking the Australian Government to do the same.

LEX LASRY: We will keep doing things, and I hope they will until it becomes pointless, and we're not at that stage yet.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Barrister Lex Lasry.

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