30 Nov 2005

Why Nguyen must die

By Joseph Koh
November 30, 2005

Singapore's decision to execute Nguyen Tuong Van for drug trafficking is correct and responsible.

ALTHOUGH opinions in Australia are not unanimous, many Australians strongly oppose Singapore's decision not to commute the death sentence on Mr Nguyen Tuong Van for drug trafficking. I respect these views, which spring from a deep sense of human compassion. However, the outcry has also made it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Fiction No. 1: Singapore has breached international law.
There is no international agreement to abolish the death penalty. Capital punishment remains part of the criminal justice systems of 76 countries, including in the United States, where it is practised in 38 states.

We respect Australia's sovereign choice not to have capital punishment. We hope Australia will likewise respect Singapore's sovereign choice to impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes, including drug trafficking. The overwhelming majority of Singaporeans support this.

Fiction No. 2: The death penalty has not deterred drug trafficking.
This logic is flawed. The death penalty has not completely eliminated drug trafficking, but it has certainly deterred drug trafficking. Since the introduction of tough anti-drug laws in the mid-1970s, drug trafficking and drug abuse in Singapore have come down significantly. Potential traffickers know that, once arrested, they face the full weight of the law.

Fiction No. 3: Mr Nguyen is an unsuspecting victim
Mr Nguyen may not be a hardened criminal, but he is not an unsuspecting victim either. He knew what he was doing and the penalty if he was caught. Had he succeeded, he would have made a lot of money. If we let off a convicted courier because of age, financial difficulties or distressed family background, it will only make it easier for drug traffickers to recruit more "mules", with the assurance that they will escape the death penalty.

Fiction No 4: The punishment does not fit crime.
Mr Nguyen was caught with 396 grams of pure heroin, enough for 26,000 "hits", with a street value of more than $A1 million.

Yes, he was transiting Singapore, and not smuggling drugs into the country, but Singapore simply cannot afford to allow itself to become a transit hub for illicit drugs in the region.

Fiction No. 5: Mr Nguyen can testify against Mr Bigs.
All drug syndicates assume that some of their couriers will get caught. They never let the couriers know enough to incriminate themselves. The information that Mr Nguyen provided to the Singapore authorities was of limited value, and was, in fact, intended to mislead and delay the investigation.

Fiction No. 6: Singapore connives with drug lords.
This is an old falsehood propagated by Dr Chee Soon Juan (Singapore opposition leader). He has alleged that the Singapore Government had invested in projects in Myanmar (Burma) that supported the drug trade. When this first surfaced in 1996, the Singapore Government explained that its investment in the Myanmar Fund was completely open and above board. The fund held straightforward commercial investments in hotels and companies. Other investors in the fund included Coutts & Co, an old British bank, and the Swiss Bank Corporation. The Singapore Government offered to set up a commission of inquiry so Dr Chee could produce evidence to prove his wild allegations. Unfortunately, Dr Chee never took up the offer.

Fiction No. 7: Singapore has treated Australia with contempt.
Singapore highly values good relations with Australia and with Australian leaders. We share a common belief in the sanctity of the law. The Singapore cabinet deliberated at length on Mr Nguyen's clemency petition. It considered all relevant factors, including Mr Nguyen's personal circumstances, and the many public and private appeals from Australian leaders. Unfortunately, finally the cabinet decided that it could not justify making an exception for Mr Nguyen. It had to treat Mr Nguyen consistently with similar past cases, and apply the law equally to Singaporeans and foreigners.

Singapore's leaders have taken pains to explain our decision to Australian leaders, both in writing and in person. Singapore's Foreign Minister had also informed Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confidentially in advance of when the family would be notified of the execution date, and explained to Mr Downer that that the family should be the first to learn of the execution date. So when Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, met Prime Minister John Howard in Busan, he could not inform Mr Howard of the execution date either. Mr Lee did not know that the letter of notification had by mistake already been delivered to Mrs Kim Nguyen, one day early. Once Mr Lee discovered what had happened, he promptly apologised to Mr Howard.

Australians who oppose the death sentence on Mr Nguyen will not agree with everything I have said. But I hope they will accept that the Singapore Government has a responsibility to protect the many lives that would otherwise be blighted and destroyed by the drug syndicates, and to prevent Singapore from becoming a conduit for illicit drugs in the region. We are all touched by the pain and anguish of Mr Nguyen's mother, but if we waver in our firm position against drug trafficking, many more families will be shattered.

Joseph K. H. Koh is Singapore high commissioner in Australia.


Anonymous said...

Fiction No. 4 is WRONG; it is a FACT big enough to outweigh all the other six points.

To take away a person's life in cold blood does NOT fit the act of carrying some powder per se.

Drug addicts have themselves to blame if they succumb to their addiction - it's not the fault of the trafficker.

Do you blame the seller of a knife if it was used by a moron to commit suicide?

"Protect the people" is a load of bullshit-crap worth's excuse when attempted (did not succeed) murder is not even a capital offence.

You have to wait until there is an actual victim before you punish someone!

Anonymous said...

"it's not the fault of the trafficker"
Hahaha, one of the most moronic comments I ever heard. So I guess human traffickers bringing in young chidren to service sick perverted men are not at fault too going by your logic. Stupid ass brain.

LuckySingaporean said...

We should also hang gambling den operators because they ruin many lives by causing gambling addictions.

SIngapore must not allow itself to be a gambling mecca. Gambling destroy lives.

Anonymous said...

Selling knives is different from carrying drugs. Probably one out of every ten thousand knives is used for a crime, but there is only one use for heroin.

Think Singaporean said...

Illegal sex trade could lead to contracting AIDS, a contagious and deadly disease which takes lives away.

Illegal loan sharks lending monies to gamblers and they can become "illegal killers".

The above are all detrimental to society. Are we also going to impose death penalty in order to be effective measures to stop the problems too?

Anonymous said...

to anon 9:03 PM: yeah u're such a stupid ass without a brain to come up with that example - the young children being trafficked r the victims, but the drugs being trafficked r not the victims. u have no logic, wake up!!

phil said...

Illegal sex trade could lead to contracting AIDS, a contagious and deadly disease which takes lives away.

Illegal loan sharks lending monies to gamblers and they can become "illegal killers".

The above are all detrimental to society. Are we also going to impose death penalty in order to be effective measures to stop the problems too?

I think in both instances, SG has done very well to contain them. Contractng AIDS isn't illegal anyway. And recently a bill was passed which authorize the police to seize the assets and properties of anyone suspected of being loansharks, and of illegal money-lending activities. Are you going to defend them too.

soci said...

with reference to "Fiction No. 2: The death penalty has not deterred drug trafficking.
This logic is flawed"

So why is 55% of the prison population in Singapore made up of those convicted for drug related offences?

Anonymous said...

why is singapore solving their drug problem with prisons and not rehabilitation centres?

soci said...

according to the official line - there is no drug problem... Singapore is drug free apart from everyone who is locked up of course.

Anonymous said...

Not enough people are aware that even those who don't traffic drugs are taking a big chance visiting Singapore. Drug smugglers often bribe baggage officials to let them stash their drugs in some poor unsuspecting person's luggage, with plans of someone in Singapore collecting the luggage *after* it has cleared customs. Since Singapore's judicial system puts the defendent at burden of proving innocence, someone caught with drugs in their bags is at great risk of getting hanged, even if they are not drug smugglers. There have been several cases where people ultimately hanged did not appear to be actual drug smugglers. In one case, a couple traveling with their kid was caught, and eventually the couple was hanged despite pleas that the drugs were planted. I remember reading that the couple had to contact family members to arrange foster care for their kid.

latest poll said...

The latest poll by The Australian newspaper published today (1 Dec) and taken last night shows that 47% of Australians feel that Nguyen should go to the gallows, while 46% say he should not. Despite the concerted attempts by the anti-death lobby Australian opinion on this case continues to be divided. The Singapore govt seems to be quite accurate in arguing that Australian public opinion is on its side.

Anonymous said...

i don't trust such polls...they publish watever helps their cause/claims

Anonymous said...

That poll must really be quite a slap in the face of those opposing the execution. It's a Morgan poll; the most objective one is likely to find.

Michael said...

You death penalty supporters are complete idiots.
Be glad there is no death penalty for being moronic imbeciles.
I wonder, if you clowns went to Singapore, and someone planted drugs in your bag, if you would still be screaming like lunatics"Hang 'em, hang'em."

patriot said...

Tomorrow if i get hold of a vial of heroin and consume it, just once for a teeny little sniff. Does that mean my life is destroyed? I'm dead and a goner?

Stop the BS about heroin kills and so on. Heroin and drug addiction is no different from alcoholism or gambling addiction where the victims are willing victims over a period of time. You don't get hooked just once, you start on the slippery slope and slowly down you go, and yes eventually you destroy yourself. No one is to blame except yourself.

Which is why taking Nguyen's life serves little or no purpose in combating the drug problem. Get at the addicts instead. You might argue that stopping the heroin supply into the country helps somewhat, but that is a fallacy. Drug addicts will simply look for other alternativesto get a fix - glue, weed, cough syrup, anything. Everyone knows this. These are the cold hard facts. So why are we not getting tough on the druggies? Instead we jail, rehabilitate, counsel and feed them.

If these elites in our govt are more concerned about saving their face rather than admit to the facts (Yes, CNB and MHA knows all about drugs) and in the process needlessly takes a life. It is no longer capital punishment but murder. And LHL and his entire cabinet and MPs' hands are tainted with blood. Because they did nothing when they could have done the right thing.

Think Singaporean said...

Phil said: "I think in both instances, SG has done very well to contain them. Contractng AIDS isn't illegal anyway. And recently a bill was passed which authorize the police to seize the assets and properties of anyone suspected of being loansharks, and of illegal money-lending activities. Are you going to defend them too."

I'm merely asking whether are we also going to impose death penalty to solve these 2 problems if these problems also prove to be just as bad as drug trafficking that also prove to be just as difficult to solve in the future? If so, then it looks as if if any problem that couldn't be solved easily, the simplest and easiest solution as a deterrence measure is to use the method of "execution". Then, sg society looks like a "hell realm" to me!

shocked said...

Just went through the poll. Quite shocked that 47% of Australians feel that Van should still be executed...!!! Really very shocked that there is such a result even at this very late stage. I wonder whether if he was Anglo-Saxon there would be the same result?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Australians stood shoulder-to-shoulder to support Schapelle Corby, why no similar outcry for this man, who in fact is facing worse?

Anonymous said...

not impressed. same thing over and over again. are you bored yet?

Anonymous said...

All this nonsense stems from the mistaken idea that killing is always wrong. That idea is false. There are times when it is not only moral to kill, but where it is immoral not to kill. Sometimes the universe gives you the choice between the death of millions of the death of billions. Killing is only a tool, one of last resort. What is important is why a person is killed. If it is for unjust reasons, then the killing is unjust. Otherwise, the killing is not merely moral, but exemplary. That's why soldiers are heros and murderers are scum.

Does the state have the authority to kill? Of course. That is its purpose. The state exists to enforce law and order, and to protect its citizens from invaders. It accomplishes both by the threat of violence and death. If you do not obey the law, the police will come. If they fail, the commandoes will give it a try. Then the infantry, then the tanks, then the air force, until you submit, are subdued or are slain. The threat of force and violent death is the means by which abstract rights written on paper become real. The constitution of a nation can only be implemented with guns. The wielding of this threat by the right people is how mankind escaped the Dark Ages. So for a state to deny the death penalty is hypocrisy. The threat of death is how human rights exist in practice in the first place. This is how the sausage is made.

Is the death penalty justified in this case? Well, that's for Singaporean law to decide. NTV has received due process and now will receive due punishment. For the law to be denied would be against the principles of civilisation -- in other words, barbaric. If the law is unjust, then it is up to Singaporeans, and only Singaporeans, to change it. But until it is changed, it must be executed to the letter, otherwise we have lawlessness and barbarism. For mercy and pity to exist, the law must be merciless and pitiless.

I, for one, support the laws against drugs. The purpose of punishment is to reform the criminal. NTV will never commit this crime again -- this I can say for certain. People can escape from life imprisonment, but no one escapes the noose. As such, hanging has a recidivism rate of exactly zero -- an ideal punishment whose application is only limited by soft-heartedness. NTV will be perfectly reformed and never contribute to crime again.

Although I am young and far more liberal than the older generations', I still believe that the Singapore government is soft on crime, and that the punishments on the books are too light. At least I can be proud that the government did the right thing in this case.

Anonymous said...

McDermott, as expected, you chose to publish the article with the title slapped on by a particular paper rather than the one given by the Sydney paper. How predictable, objective and rational of you.

Since you regularly scour the papers and data for facts to help you, pray tell, is there any evidence to back up Nguyen's claims that

- All the money earned would have gone to paying his brother's debt.

- Such a debt even exists.

- That this incident was his first time. Can you prove that this isn't his 2nd time, his 3rd, 4th, 10th time trafficking drugs?

Singapore is not 100% drug free; statistics about drug usage among teens regularly appear in the papers. Accounts of people who set up halfway houses for drug addicts take up huge spaces in the papers, and current affairs programs of drug addicts are screened during primetime slots. So I guess you're either genuinely deluded about it, or you're trying to twist facts yet again. If Singapore was entirely drug free then the government wouldn't spend money on campaigns to reiterate the harmfulness of drugs.

However, obviously the problem is less prevalent than, say, Australia's. I personally do not know any drug users, convicted or otherwise, and I've never found any discarded needles anywhere, nor have I had to worry about it before. I was told that not having to worry about discarded needles was a good thing, was I mistaken?

Aussie indifference said...

If virtually half of all Aussies think he should hang, then why would/should a foreign govt bother to grant clemency? Doesn't make sense for it to do so when there isn't a real clamour by most Aussies that he should live.

Think Singaporean said...

It is not a matter of whether the convict is a local or foreigner, however, it is by the fact that he is a human being who has a precious human life like you and me.

Anonymous said...

Can't this website talk about both the positive and negative aspects of Singapore rather than just post negative stories all the time???? Is it that difficult to be a little positive about Singapore??

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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soci said...

anonymous comment is disabled because of the use of bad language in the previous two anonymous comments. Please realise that you are not technically anonymous on the internet.

Anonymous said...

I applaud the wise and measured response of the Singaporean government to this sorry situation - this person smuggling drugs into Australia does not deserve hero and martyr status and justice has been served in sparing th rest of us from the heroin menace that this creature was about to unleash on our fellow Australians
Paul from Melbourne

Anonymous said...

this article contradicts itself, if the death penalty is such a deterrent, and van nguyen new that this was the penalty in singapore. why did he smuggle drugs in? not such a deterrent is it. obviously Joseph Koh's logic is flawed.