December 2, 2005
Today's execution of Nguyen Tuong Van has forced the mandatory death penalty onto the agenda in Singapore, with the local media unable to ignore the political lobbying, threatened trade boycotts and heated public debate in Australia.
In a rare break with the government line, the broadsheet Straits Times newspaper ran an article reassessing the mandatory death penalty, despite continuing government statements that it is essential to protect citizens from the scourge of drugs and deter drug syndicates basing themselves in Singapore.
"Perhaps in the months ahead, when emotions have died down, the mandatory death penalty - meaning its case-by-case, crime-by-crime application - should be reassessed by lawyers, officials and citizens alike," political reporter Ken Kwek wrote in an analysis piece. "If that happens, we should all focus on the specific - how the mandatory death penalty might be removed for certain crimes - rather than fall for the broadbrush rhetoric calling for its complete and unconditional abolition," the article said.
A long-time resident of Singapore, who asked not to be named, said "it shows in Singapore, within the established media, there are some misgivings about this medieval form of punishment. I wouldn't see it as a signal from the government, more a signal from the intelligentsia."
Yesterday's Straits Times devoted two pages to the story, picking up the letter by Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia, Joseph Koh, justifying the rejection of clemency.
The increased coverage reflects Singapore's awareness that the region is closely watching its actions.
- with STEVE BUTCHER