From: By Clare Masters in Singapore
November 27, 2005
Darshan Singh ... No longer Singapore's hangman. SINGAPORE has sacked its long-serving hangman on the eve of the execution of Australian drug courier Nguyen Tuong Van.
A new executioner is expected to be flown into Singapore this week to carry out Nguyen's death sentence as scheduled on Friday despite pleas for mercy from Australia. It is believed the new hangman will be flown in from another Asian country, possibly Malaysia, with which Singapore has a close relationship.
The 25-year old from Melbourne will become the first prisoner in Singapore in 46 years not to be sent to his death by Darshan Singh. The 74-year-old grandfather was dumped after his identity and picture was revealed by The Australian newspaper.
Mr Singh said he was in big trouble and was out of a job.
"It has been very, very difficult for me," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "I am not the hangman anymore."
Mr Singh said he would miss the $400 fee for each execution but was relieved he would not be placing the noose around Nguyen's neck. "In a way I am happy," he said.
Nguyen's lawyer Lex Lasry said the prospect of an inexperienced hangman was disturbing because mistakes could cause extended suffering. "If this must happen it must be done as humanely as possible. It just shows the high level of inhumanity of it."
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the Government was continuing to plead to Singapore to stop the execution.
Australia's Catholic bishops yesterday wrote to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urging him to reconsider clemency for the condemned man.
Nguyen was caught with 396.2 grams of heroin at Singapore's Changi Airport in December 2002 while in transit from Cambodia to Sydney. He claimed he was trying to pay off his heroin-addicted twin brother's legal debts.
Nguyen's mother Kim and brother Khoa have been in Singapore for a week visiting Nguyen at Changi each day until yesterday when the prison was closed.
Singapore human rights lawyer M. Ravi has led the local campaign to save the Australian because it was the final wish of his previous death row client.
Thirty eight-year-old Shanmugam Murugesu, who became Nguyen's best friend and confidant in jail, was executed in May for bringing one kilogram of marijuana into the country.
"When I saw Shanmugam on his last day he said to me 'let my death not be in vain, please help this young man next to me'," Mr Ravi said.
It was his last wish that on his birthday, eight days before Nguyen's execution date, his family hold a vigil to pray for the condemned. They fulfilled it last week. "We are not just fighting for my father," Murugesu's 15-year-old son Gopal said at the candle-lit Indian ritual.
"We are fighting for everyone. No one should have to go through this pain, it is not the pain of missing a girlfriend or a friend, the pain of seeing your father's body is very difficult to handle.
"I do not want his mother to have to feel this pain."
Gopal and his twin brother Krishnan, now work alongside Mr Ravi with their grandmother Madame Letchumi Ammah as the only family of a condemned prisoner to speak out publicly against the government. It is a battle largely waged in secret as the lobbyists dodge the government's strict laws. Of the 10 activists who formed the Singapore Anti Death Penalty Committee (SADPC), nine will not divulge their identity.
"But we are slowly making a difference," said one activist.
"Van has made an impact. He has struck a chord. But this will be a long and slow fight."