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.

Singapore digs in as execution looms


Wednesday 30 November 2005 5:58 AM GMT

Nguyen Tuong Van is scheduled to die on Friday

Singapore has dismissed calls to save a young Australian drug smuggler from imminent hanging despite threats of retaliation from his compatriots and condemnation from international human rights groups.

With less than 48 hours to go before Nguyen Tuong Van's execution at Changi Prison, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Singapore's envoy to Australia have made it clear the execution of the former south Vietnamese refugee would go ahead.

Lee, currently in Europe, told French newspaper Le Figaro that the death penalty "is necessary and is part of the criminal justice system", rejecting claims that executing people for non-violent crimes is out of date and inhuman.

"We also think that drug trafficking is a crime that deserves the death penalty. The evil inflicted on thousands of people with drug trafficking demands that we must tackle the source by punishing the traffickers rather than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards," he said.

"It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem," the son of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said before calling on French President Jacques Chirac.

"It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem"

Lee Hsien Loong,
Singapore prime minister

Some private groups and opposition politicians in Australia have called for sanctions against Singapore, but Prime Minister John Howard has adopted a more restrained approach and sought clemency for Nguyen.

Singapore's high commissioner in Canberra, Joseph Koh, in an opinion piece published on Wednesday in Australian newspapers, dismissed what he said were "fictions" about the Nguyen case.

Supporters of the Vietnamese-born man, who said he agreed to be a drug mule to help pay off his twin brother's debts, say mitigating circumstances including his cooperation with investigators justified commuting his death sentence to a prison term.

But Koh said: "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."


Nguyen was arrested at Changi Airport - near the prison where he will be hanged - three years ago carrying 396 grams of heroin strapped to his back from Cambodia to Australia.

Singapore officials say the amount is enough to supply drug abusers 26,000 doses.

"Contrary to assertions, the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect in relation to drugs or other serious crimes"

Timothy Parritt,
Amnesty International

In Singapore, possession of more than 15g of heroin is deemed as trafficking and punishable by a mandatory death sentence.

Amnesty International says Singapore has the world's highest execution rate relative to its population of just 4.2 million, including resident foreigners.

About 420 prisoners were sent to the gallows between 1991 and 2004, Amnesty said.

Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry says 66 Singaporeans and 22 foreigners have been executed between 2001 and September 2005.

Timothy Parritt, a researcher for Amnesty's Southeast Asia team, said the watchdog was "unaware of any scientific studies" showing the death penalty was a greater deterrent than other forms of punishment.

"Contrary to assertions, the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect in relation to drugs or other serious crimes. The certainty of arrest, prosecution and the prospect of long periods of imprisonment form the basis of effective deterrence," he said.

Parritt added that Amnesty regarded the death penalty "as the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights" and stressed that "no criminal justice system is immune from error, and the risk of miscarriages of justice can never be excluded".

Meanwhile, envoy Koh also dismissed allegations that Singapore's drug policies were hypocritical because it backs military-ruled Myanmar, a major heroin producer.

The charges were "an old falsehood" propagated by a Singapore opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, he said, adding that the city-state's investments in Myanmar are "straightforward" commercial transactions.

He said the Singapore cabinet deliberated at length on Nguyen's clemency petition and considered all relevant factors but decided not to treat him differently.

"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," he added.

Drug trafficking 'deserves death penalty': Singapore PM

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has defended his country's decision to execute convicted Australian drug-runner Van Nguyen this week, saying "drug trafficking is a crime that deserves the death penalty".

Speaking to France's Le Figaro newspaper ahead of a meeting in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac, Mr Lee justified Singapore's position when asked specifically about the case of Van Nguyen.

The 25-year-old Melbourne man of Vietnamese background was arrested at Changi airport three years ago while in transit from Cambodia to Australia with 400 grams of heroin in his possession.

Mr Lee says the death penalty, which is mandatory for the trafficking of significant amounts of drugs in Singapore, "is necessary and is part of the criminal justice system," he says in his interview with the paper.

"We also think that drug trafficking is a crime that deserves the death penalty. The evil inflicted on thousands of people with drug trafficking demands that we must tackle the source by punishing the traffickers rather than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards," he said.

"It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem."


Amnesty denies glorifying Nguyen

Related Audio
SA Premier Mike Rann says has described Van Nguyen as a potential murderer and says his sentence should be kept into perspective.

[RealMedia 28k+] [WinMedia 28k+ ] [MP3]

The lawyer for convicted drug smuggler Van Nguyen says there is little hope his client will escape his looming execution.

[RealMedia 28k+] [WinMedia 28k+] [MP3]

Amnesty International says it is not trying to portray Melbourne man Van Nguyen as a hero in the lead-up to his hanging in Singapore for drug smuggling.

The human rights group has responded to comments made by South Australian Premier Mike Rann, who has called for people to put the planned execution of the 25-year-old on Friday into perspective.

Mr Rann says while he opposes the death penalty, he believes calls for sanctions against Singapore and a minute's silence to mark the execution are outrageous.

But Amnesty International's anti-death penalty coordinator, Tim Goodwin, says the Premier is missing the point.

"This campaign is not about defending Van Nguyen by any means," he said.

"He committed a very serious criminal offence and an offence that he clearly needs to be punished for and punished very severely.

"This is an argument about a fundamental violation, which is the death penalty."


The Greens say they have legal advice that Australia may be able to extradite Nguyen.

Senator Kerry Nettle says she will move a motion in the Senate today, calling on the Federal Government to try everything possible to extradite him.

Senator Nettle says the Government has previously been advised that extradition is not possible.

But she says there may be a loophole if Nguyen is charged by Australian authorities with conspiracy to import heroin.

"The Government has put forward arguments to say that you would not be able to charge Van Nguyen here with importing heroin," she said.

"That's why the request from the Council of Civil Liberties is to charge him with conspiracy to import heroin because it's a separate charge so the double jeopardy does not come into play."


Just two days away from his scheduled execution, Nguyen is again being visited by family and friends.

His lawyer Lex Lasry, QC, has also arrived for an official visit to his client.

Earlier, Nguyen's friends Bronwyn Lew and Kelly Ng visited him, while his mother and brother are expected to come to Changi Prison this afternoon.

There has been no word on whether Singapore will agree to a request from Nguyen's mother, Kim, to be allowed to hug her son before he is executed.

Nguyen's case is drawing attention in Singapore's media.

The influential Straits Times newspaper has today run a number of articles and letters about the case, some of them from Australians supporting the Singapore Government's stance.

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

Singapore paper claims Australians support execution

November 30, 2005 - 1:45PM

Singapore's leading newspaper claims ordinary Australians support the decision to hang convicted drug courier Nguyen Tuong Van.

The Straits Times today cited an email sent to Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo from a man whose 40-year-old son and daughter-in-law were said to be drug addicts.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed anger at those who showed sympathy for drug peddlers such as Nguyen, who is due to be hanged on Friday.

The report entitled "Few Aussies against Nguyen hanging, says addict's dad" concluded that: "His email coming amid criticism from human rights and other activists, suggests ordinary Australians hold a different view and back Singapore."

Nguyen was caught in transit at Changi airport in 2002 with 396 grams of heroin. Repeated pleas for mercy from the Australian Government, his family and friends, and the Catholic Church have fallen on deaf ears.

There is still no word from authorities as to whether Kim Nguyen will be allowed to hug her 25-year-old son when she sees him for the last time.

The Straits Times report on the unnamed Australian carried no reporter's byline. The email was not released to the foreign media based in Singapore.

The report went on to describe the contents of the email, which talked about the difficulties faced by the father coping with his son and daughter-in-law's addiction.

"I have the heartbreaking experience of dragging my son from our toilet with a needle in his arm, and he had stopped breathing," the email was quoted as saying.

"If it hadn't been for his wife knowing what to do, he would have died," it said.

The email said that Australians backed the Singapore court's decision to hang Nguyen.

Singapore's main print and broadcast media, including The Straits Times, is firmly tied to the ruling People's Action Party Government, which has run the country uninterrupted since independence more than 40 years ago.

The local media are not free in the mainstream western sense, but support what officials call "nation-building".

The email to Mr Yeo said few Australians would support a call for a minute's silence on Friday for Nguyen.


29 Nov 2005

Elitism in stratified education.

There's been some talk in the news lately about Singapore's Gifted Education Programme (GEP) and whether it breeds elitism. While acknowledging that people should, generally, move on from their narrow educational backgrounds and create lives which are not defined by which class in which school they went to decades ago, I would have thought this was so obvious as not to require controversy. Of course the GEP - and all stratified education - breeds elitism.

The justification frequently raised in favour of stratified education is that it helps children learn better. The argument goes that the teacher can pitch the tenor of the lessons according to the abilities of the children involved, so that brighter kids can be taught at a faster rate without leaving others unable to follow, while slower kids can be instructed at a pace appropriate to them without boring the more talented. The result, it is claimed, is better education for all. And because children are streamed into the GEP or other better streams according to tests that determine their merit, this ensures equality of opportunity, regardless of socioeconomic background.

But is this what really happens? I'm going to address this question on three bases: first, the one of equality of opportunity; second, the one of pedagogical effectiveness; third, the question of what primary and secondary education should seek to do.

First, equality of opportunity. Any streaming system and the GEP presuppose that the tests that separate children into various strata do so on the basis of innate merit, and that such merit can be effectively identified at the ages when the tests are administered. But the criticisms of this are obvious. First, there are always children with the potential to be late bloomers, for whom being labelled as underachieving or a failure at an early age may prove a major obstacle to what would otherwise be a successful academic career. Secondly, these tests are undeniably biased towards those who with cultural advantages such as English-speaking parents or parents savvy enough to know the consequences of passing these tests, as well as towards those whose families have the money to supply them with books, tutors, and pleasant surroundings in which to study (and who don't have to have their kids hold down part-time jobs to help the household make ends meet). The result is that children end up having a different quality of education not according to merit but according to class.

But does this matter? Don't kids who have the disadvantages I've talked about need to be taught at a slower pace anyway, so that not being in the GEP or in a more advanced stream would ultimately be better for them? This brings me to the second question, that of pedagogical effectiveness. The argument that "everyone gets a better education" from stratification might be arguable if there were indeed equal resources being poured into both "good" schools and "bad" schools. But there aren't. Motivated teachers prefer to teach classes full of bright kids rather than classes full of kids who are seen as disruptive wastrels, so clever children get better teachers and other children get worse ones. Moreover, the GEP has historically had a disproportionate amount of money allocated to it by the Ministry of Education, manifested most obviously in smaller classroom sizes.

Moreover, even if equal amounts were being spent on each kid per capita, regardless of their stream, this doesn't neutralise the problem with stratified education in terms of classroom dynamic, which is a large part of the reason for streaming to begin with. It's probably true that clever kids do better academically in an environment full of other clever kids: most of the kids who pass these tests are likely to be fairly well-behaved and task-oriented, because, as I've already mentioned, the selection procedure favours kids with at least moderately well-off, pushy and savvy parents. But this is at the expense of kids who've achieved less, because, by definition, if the proportion of disruptive kids in GEP and other high-stream classes has decreased, the proportion of disruptive kids in the other classes has increased. So that children left in these classes - the vast majority of children in the educational system - face an environment that makes it harder for them to learn. In many cases, these kids don't need to be taught at a slower pace so much as they need to be in an environment where a focus on teaching is possible at all.

And I haven't even begun to talk about the psychological effects of being told from an early age that you're not as smart as Johnny Tan or Michelle Lim from the school next door, and you never will be, and that's why you need to get dumped in the thicko bin.

But that ties in quite nicely with my third objection to stratified education. Is the point of education simply to churn out people who can do sums and write summaries? Or is part of the value of education the social factor - the opportunity it provides for children to learn to interact with a peer group and socialise with people? It seems to me that if, as I have suggested, kids with inherent advantages from their background will do well in any case, it is far less important that they learn one more scientific theorem or Shakespearean text than they otherwise could have, and more important that they learn what it's like to be someone who doesn't come from the sort of background that they come from. To learn that they are not those "other people" who go to that "other place" which is for people who aren't as smart as you. It's equally important that children who don't achieve as much academically learn that they can interact with those who do as equals and peers, and that not everyone who goes to a good school is a rich snob.

People say you don't need school to do this - that children can mix with other children in their own time - but you can't discount the influence of the school environment. Children spend the vast majority of their time there. What they see in their classes becomes, in their minds, a sort of normalised, representative vision of the world they live in. It may well be the case - it should hopefully be the case - that they may change their minds about this the more they see of the world, and come to realise that they came from a very specific background. But too often this takes the form of a sort of subcutaneous elitism, a deeply rooted assumption that as a gifted or highly educated child one is innately better or more rational or intelligent in some overarching, holsitic way - when all they've done is answer test questions better. Yes, people can shrug off the influence of the school environment towards elitism, but why install that influence to begin with? We shouldn't underestimate the impact of the place that they spent every working day for years upon years during a formative stage of their life, especially as many children who do well in school then go on to tertiary education where they continue to be surrounded by others who share their social and economic status to a large degree.

A final word: it seems to me much of the claims relating to better teaching in streamed systems can be answered by simply having a much less weighty syllabus to begin with. Teach kids less in the regular curriculum, so that most kids can keep up with it; and then offer completely optional courses and extra-curriculuar activities so that kids who are interested in finding out more have the opportunity to do so. I think bright kids will do even better out of a system that lets them shape their own intellectual - and other - exploration in their free time.

Singapore denies Van Nguyen chewing gum as last meal

The following article from The Chaser is a spoof/satire/not real... It does however show Singapore in an extremely legalist light. One that tends to show itself in a number of the commentators attempted rejoinders to the death penalty being 'barbaric'. The "law is the law is the law", to quote one commentator. I am of the opinion that yes laws are necessary but they are not cast in 'absolutist terms' like the laws of physics can claim to be. Sometimes the law is an ass.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Van Nguyen risks being hanged a third time if authorities discover the graffiti he left on his cell wall Singapore has refused Nguyen Tuong Van’s request for chewing gum as his last meal, saying that to grant the condemned man’s wish could harm Singapore’s international reputation as a brutal but litter-free nation. “We’re more likely to give him clemency than the chance to litter,” said the superintendent of Changi prison Gong Chok Lee. “Besides, chewing gum is most uncivilised, even on death row.”

The superintendent says Nguyen’s request put authorities in a difficult position. “If we gave him the gum and he littered, we’d have to hang him twice” Gong explained. “And when someone is about to be executed, capital punishment is even an even less effective deterrent than it normally is.”

Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew has applauded the decision on Nguyen’s last meal, saying he hoped it would show the world that Singapore’s justice system is not just excessive and rigidly inflexible in relation to drug offences. Mr Lee also said the Singapore government should introduce the death penalty for criticism of the death penalty, threatening to sue anyone who disagreed with him for defamation.

Meanwhile in Australia, John Howard has been criticised for planning to attend the Prime Minister’s XI cricket match on the day Nguyen is scheduled to be executed. But the PM relented earlier today, formally asking the Singapore government the delay Nguyen’s execution until the lunch break.

Although Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has ruled out taking Singapore to the ICJ over Nguyen’s case, the PM is considering a last minute request to the ICC to change the schedule for the day’s cricket.

As the execution date nears, Nguyen’s supporters have made a last ditch effort to save him, engaging Michelle Leslie’s legal team to try and buy the condemned man out of trouble. Nguyen’s family have also appealed to Leslie’s millionaire boyfriend Scott Sutton to provide $AUD300,000 in “immediate emotional support.”

Australian anger over Singapore hanging

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Time is running out for 25-year-old Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van, who is due to be executed at Singapore's Changi prison on Friday.
His death sentence has sparked widespread criticism in Australia.

The Canberra government has repeatedly pleaded for clemency, as have lawyers, trade unions and church groups.

But Singapore remains unmoved, and insists the hanging will go ahead as planned.

"People have been praying for a change of heart," said Father Peter Norden, a friend of Kim Nguyen, the condemned man's mother.

"They want the Singapore government to change its heart from one of stone to a heart of flesh, as well as compassion and reason," he told the BBC.

Father Norden said Nguyen should be spared: "We believe this young man has committed a serious crime deserving of punishment, but not the loss of his life."

Nguyen was arrested carrying almost 400 grams (14 ounces) of heroin at Singapore's Changi airport in late 2002.

He said he was trying to smuggle the drugs from Cambodia to Australia to pay off his twin brother's debts.

Hardline approach

The Australian government believes Nguyen should not face the gallows because he has no previous criminal convictions. It has also argued that he could help investigations into drug syndicates if allowed to live.

But in a letter to his Australian counterpart, the Speaker of the Singapore Parliament, Abdullah Tarmugi, said there was no room for compromise.

"We have an obligation to protect the lives of those who could be ruined by the drugs Nguyen was carrying," he wrote. "He knew what he was doing and the consequences of his actions."

No-one has the right to take the life of someone else
John Karousos, Sydney retiree

According to Amnesty International, about 420 people have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drugs offences.
If these figures are correct, they would give the prosperous city-state of 4.2 million people the highest execution rate in the world, relative to its population.

At the weekend Australian Prime Minister John Howard made his fifth personal plea to the Singaporean leadership, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta.

Mr Howard warned that Singapore should prepare for "lingering resentment" in Australia if the execution went ahead.

He has, however, rejected calls for boycotts of Singaporean companies, as well as trade and military sanctions with one of Australia's closest Asian allies.

"I believe John Howard has done as much as he could do," said Gerard Henderson, from the conservative think-tank The Sydney Institute.

"Listening to talk-back radio, there are some people who think that heroin smugglers deserve the death penalty, but I believe that the majority of Australians hold a different view," Mr Henderson told the BBC News website.

"They will be approaching Friday's deadline with a sense of dread," he added.

Little hope

Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1980, after his mother fled from Vietnam. The family eventually settled in Melbourne.

Several last-ditch efforts to save him have been suggested, including taking Singapore to the International Court of Justice or arranging a prisoner swap, but legal experts have said none are likely to succeed.

Simon Rice, a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, said that Singapore was not a signatory to international human rights covenants, and there was little hope the 25-year-old drug trafficker would be saved.

"[Nguyen's] execution is a seriously tragic reminder of how far short we are of a global commitment to human rights," Mr Rice told the BBC.

Some church leaders have called on Australians to observe a minute's silence for Nguyen on Friday, but overall opinion remains mixed.
"No-one has the right to take the life of someone else," John Karousos, a 66-year-old retiree in Sydney, told the BBC. "It doesn't matter what he's done or his mistakes. The death penalty is unacceptable."

"I have a small hope that it will be stopped at the last moment," he added optimistically.

But Gilly Parminter, a 40-year-old mother, was less sympathetic.

"Personally I think if you go into a country you have to abide by their laws, and you have to live with the consequences."

"It does seem harsh but they [the Singaporeans] can't change their minds at this late stage because it will undermine their system," she said.

The last Australian to be executed overseas was Michael McAuliffe.

The barman from Sydney was hanged in Malaysia in June 1993, after serving eight years in prison for heroin trafficking.

In 1986 two Australian citizens, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, were also hanged in Malaysia after being convicted of drug smuggling.

There appears to be little hope that Nguyen Tuong Van will avoid a similar fate in Singapore this Friday.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/11/29 00:52:00 GMT

Singapore: Only leadership can save Van Tuong Nguyen

A press release from Amnesty International.

Recent weeks have seen a monumental effort by Amnesty International Australia to save the life of Australian Van Tuong Nguyen, who is on death row in Singapore. That campaign, led by Tim Goodwin, AI Australia's Coordinator for their anti-death penalty work, is coming to a climax with the execution date set for this Friday, 2 December. Below is AI Australia's media statement of today.

Many of you have already sent messages to the Singaporean authorities. And you are aware of the massive amount of media coverage by Australian and international news agencies. Van's mother and twin brother have visited him in prison. Australia's Catholic bishops have written to the authorities. Both the late Pope and the current Pope appealed for clemency, Australian government leaders appealed directly. The UN Special Rapporteur on executions appealed. Anti death penalty campaigners in Singapore -- including the Anti Death Penalty Committee, the Think Centre and Dr Chee Soon Juan -- have spoken publicly at home and abroad and held vigils. Some refer to the utter cruelty of the death penalty, or its lack of deterrent effect. Others accuse the Singapore government of hypocrisy by retaining the death penalty for drugs offences, yet maintaining a relationship with drug-trafficking Myanmar. Although I have no information on its specific action on this case, the Canadian government assures me that it is active on human rights in Singapore.


Please fax a brief message via AI Australia to Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia, urging clemency on the grounds that executing Van Tuong Nguyen is the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment and will not protect Singapore against drugs any more effectively than any other punishment. These letters are delivered daily to the Singapore High Commissioner to Australia. Australia is about 13 hours ahead of Canada. AI Australia fax: +61 3 9427 1643

Further information and appeals are available at AI Australia's website www.amnesty.org.au

Singapore: Only leadership can save Van Tuong Nguyen

Amnesty International is appealing directly to the Singapore Government to show leadership on human rights and commute the death sentence against Van Tuong Nguyen.

With the hours counting down towards his planned execution, the members of the Singapore Cabinet can show their leadership by saving his life,� said Tim Goodwin, Amnesty International Anti-Death Penalty Coordinator.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment and it does not protect Singapore against drugs any more effectively than other punishments.

This is the only chance left for the Singapore Government to acknowledge this and show its strength by stopping the execution," he said.

Over the past five weeks, Amnesty International has worked with tens of thousands of people in Australia and around the world to send a strong and loud appeal to the Singapore Government.

Now we are making a direct appeal to the members of the Singapore Cabinet: Please reconsider your decision.

There is a growing worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. More than half of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty and more countries abolish it each year.

As well as the worldwide trend towards abolition, there is also a growing view that a mandatory death penalty is a particularly cruel and unfair punishment.

"No court had the power to consider the punishment that might be appropriate for Van Tuong Nguyen," Tim Goodwin said.

"It is up to the members of the Singapore Cabinet to decide that the death penalty is inappropriate for Van, and it is inappropriate for every person convicted of serious crime in Singapore," he said.

Amnesty International has been campaigning for the Singapore government to call a halt to the mounting toll of executions and release information about its use of the death penalty.

Amnesty International is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty, in all countries and in all cases, as a violation of the most basic human right � the right to life.

Nguyen's walk to death

From Herald Sun

IT was through this gate that Tuong Van Nguyen's journey to hell began.

And as he sits on death row awaiting execution on Friday, Nguyen has no doubt reflected on the night the "beep" of the metal detector signalled the collapse of his world.

It was just on three years ago when the 22-year-old Melbourne salesman approached Gate C22 at Singapore's Changi Airport with much trepidation.

He was carrying two bags of high-grade heroin -- one strapped to his body and the other stuffed into a backpack -- and was rushing to catch the flight to Melbourne.

He was in transit from Cambodia, where he'd collected almost 400g of the white powder to smuggle into Australia for a Sydney syndicate.

Nguyen would later tell Singaporean police he had become a drug mule to pay off his twin brother's debts.

Airport security officers in Cambodia had failed to detect the two plastic packets of heroin he'd taped to his body.

Once on the Silkair flight MI622, Nguyen started to have breathing problems, so he went to the toilet and removed the packet taped to his stomach, then stuffed it in his hand luggage. He kept the other taped to his lower back.

After arriving in Singapore, Nguyen had to connect with Qantas QF 10 for his flight home.

But he fell asleep in the Business Lounge, and when he awoke realised he had only 10 minutes to make the plane.

In his police statement, Nguyen said his anxiety levels were further raised by fears that his movements were being monitored by the drug syndicate.

"At the metal detector, I placed my backpack and my business bag on to the X-ray machine," he stated.

"Then I walked through the metal detector and as I was crossing it beeped.

"At that point I knew I was going to be caught.

"A policewoman told me to stand to one side so as not to obstruct traffic.

"She then used a metal detector wand to search me by going up and down my body. The wand did not beep.

"She then touched my back and when she reached my lower back, she must have discovered the packet of heroin strapped there."

Nguyen, who has no criminal record, was immediately taken to a room where he was ordered to place his hands against the wall.

"I told him, 'No need, I will get it for you'," he stated. "I lifted up my shirt and pulled out the strapped packet on my lower back and gave it to the officer.

"He asked me what that was and I replied to him, 'It's heroin, sir'.

"I also told him that there was more and went and retrieved the pack of heroin which I had hidden inside my backpack."

At this stage, Nguyen became distressed and began to cry, at the same time hitting his head against the wall. He then sat on the floor, holding his head in his hands.

Shortly before midnight, December 12, he was taken to Singapore's Central Narcotic's Bureau and later charged on serious drug offences, with an automatic penalty of death by hanging.

It had been his first overseas trip.

Just before midnight last night all was quiet at Gate C22. About 5km away, the lights were also out at Changi Prison.

Nguyen's execution date falls on the third anniversary of the day he flew out of Australia.

Death row case divides Singapore

Yes I have posted a link to this broadcast very recently however it now includes an MP3 download and a transcript of the broadcast.

Listen to the programme
Download the mp3 (8 Mb)

Andrew Harding
BBC correspondent
, Singapore
At dawn next Friday, a 73-year-old pensioner will put a rope around the neck of a 25-year-old man, and open a trapdoor.
For the older man, it is a routine which he has now performed more than 500 times.

I'm told he informs each condemned prisoner - in his final moments - that he's being sent to a better place.

Technically the hangman, Darshan Singh, has already retired from the prison service after a long and busy career.

But it turns out that his particular skills are in short supply and regular demand here.

Tiny Singapore - with its zero tolerance approach to drugs - has the highest execution rate, per capita, in the world. And so Mr Singh keeps getting called in.

No clemency

His latest "assignment" is a Vietnamese-born Australian called Van Nguyen, a confessed heroin mule caught in transit at Singapore's airport.

A first-time offender, Van said he had been trying to pay off a debt owed by his brother.

Change is going to take years here. We're a society conditioned to living in fear
Constance Singham
Women's rights activist

The Australian government has asked, firmly but politely, for clemency. No deal.
The Australian media has demanded the same, rather less politely. There have been editorials urging economic sanctions, and pointed questions about the Singaporean government's hardline drugs policy.

Why execute the hapless couriers, but invest heavily in the repulsive regime of Burma, where so much of the world's opium is grown?

None of this seems likely to save Van's life.

In all likelihood, on Friday morning, Van's mother and twin brother will be invited to collect his coffin from the prison.

The hangman and the Australian journalists will go home. The £4.5bn trading partnership between Australia and Singapore will continue as before. And this peaceful, prosperous, strange little country will shrug off the whole incident.

End of story? Well, maybe not.

Winds of change?

A few miles from the prison there is a giant conference centre called Suntec City.

Over the past few days it has been hosting something very un-Singaporean: a sex trade exhibition. Lingerie, electric toys, scantily clad models, and so on.
It is a bold step for a famously straight-laced country where homosexuality and oral sex are still illegal.

And it is a sign, some claim, that this authoritarian government is getting ready to embrace more fundamental changes, that the nanny state plans to turn into, shall we say, a chaperone state.

A western advertising executive summed it up for me recently at a party here. Basically, they want to re-brand Singapore, he said.

To keep the economy growing, they need a more dynamic, more creative workforce, and they have realised that the only way to do that is to give people more freedom.

But how much freedom?

It is hard to generalise, as the subject does not get much coverage in the state-controlled media, but my sense is that an awful lot of Singaporeans believe that killing Van is wrong.

It is one issue which really seems to have galvanised people.

What's more, they are starting to make their views heard. Not on the streets. Unlicensed outdoor protests involving more than four people are illegal here.

'Living in fear'

But check out the internet and you will find a lively debate raging, complete with online petitions and blogs. Sometimes it goes a bit further.

"I'm a bit scared," said a young man called Jason, in a half-whisper. "Maybe I'm paranoid, but everyone here fears repercussions."

We were standing in a crowded hotel function room with about 100 Singaporeans who had responded to an online invitation to a meeting in support of Van.
"Making a public stand isn't exactly part of our culture," said Jason. "But I think in this case the death penalty is a bit extreme, and I feel strongly about this."

Next to him, an older woman called Constance Singham let out a rich belly laugh. She is a women's rights activist and a restaurant owner.

"Change is going to take years here," she said. "It took us 15 years to convince people to take domestic violence seriously.

"It may sound funny," she went on. "But we're a society conditioned to live in fear. Still, as people become more educated and start to ask questions, our government will have to listen to us."

So much for long term.

Right now Singapore's elderly hangman has work to do. Mr Singh doesn't give interviews to the media.

But it is understood that he is keen to retire fully as soon as possible. The trouble is, no one else wants his job.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 26 November, 2005 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

28 Nov 2005

Garry Rodan: Image of Singapore tarnished

From The Australian
November 29, 2005
WHATEVER the merits or otherwise of the Singapore Government's refusal to grant clemency to Nguyen Tuong Van, its handling has dealt a blow to Singapore's image. The city-state is renowned for bureaucratic efficiency and meticulous attention to detail by its political leaders.

This didn't square with John Howard learning from reporters that, while he was making his plea to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Van's mother was already in receipt of the Singapore Government's decision letter.

More than clumsy diplomacy, the clemency episode is the latest illustration of growing challenges facing the ruling People's Action Party in managing contradictions inherent in the Singapore development model. Singapore's increasingly sophisticated market economy has also involved the proliferation of government-linked companies that are central to the power base of the PAP. And Singapore's rise as a regional media and information hub has gone hand in hand with stringent curbs on free expression.

For four decades, its leaders have skilfully reconciled competing political and economic pressures to preserve state economic interests and authoritarian rule. But in the context of globalisation, managing and concealing contradictions is proving more difficult.

It is the internationalisation of government-linked companies that has driven involvement in Burma and which contradicts the harsh, punitive stance on drug trafficking within Singapore. As Australian media have highlighted, while Singapore's courts have been sending hundreds of drug mules to the gallows, GLCs have seized on business opportunities in one of the world's leading drug-source countries. At home, GLCs are insulated from such media scrutiny.

With the internationalisation of Singapore's cashed-up GLCs, the negotiation of free trade agreements and the more comprehensive integration of Singapore into the global economy, official rhetoric depicting Singapore as a transparent market has also come under unprecedented critical international scrutiny. Temasek Holdings, with a portfolio of $83billion in about 40 companies, and the Government Investment Corporation, managing more than $140billion of taxpayers' money in overseas investments, have been the principal focus. Many of the companies involved are not publicly listed and are exempt from legal or regulatory requirements for routine external reviews or public declarations.

In separate FTA negotiations with the US and Australia, the lack of transparency of GLCs and the independence of Singapore's regulatory authorities were contentious issues, viewed by the US in particular as serious obstacles to competition in the domestic market.

The International Monetary Fund has also called for more transparent fiscal and monetary frameworks and raised concerns about the scope for conflicts of interest in Singapore owing to interpenetration of executive power, regulatory authority and leading GLCs. For instance, Lee's wife, Ho Ching, is the executive director of Temasek.

Contradictions are also playing themselves out in domestic politics. The Government's transparency claims have been an unwitting political opportunity for critics. In August, 12 anti-riot squad police wearing helmets and knee-high protective gear, and armed with shields and batons, formed a phalanx in front of the Central Provident Fund (national superannuation) building in the city centre. This was in reaction not to a security threat but to four silent protesters wearing T-shirts and carrying placards demanding greater transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.

Although the protesters did not appear to violate the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, which requires a permit for a public meeting of more than five people, they were dispersed and their T-shirts and placards confiscated on the pretext of possible charges of causing a public nuisance.

Tension between the media hub and curbs on free expression also entered a new phase this year with the mushrooming of internet weblogs (or blogs). With no moderators, system administrators or web content managers for Singapore's authorities to monitor, filter or warn, they have provided new avenues for government critics. The blog of Chen Jiahao, the former beneficiary of a government scholarship to study at the University of Illinois, was at the centre of one controversy when he criticised scholarships as overly restrictive. After threats of defamation proceedings from a leading state bureaucrat, Chen was intimidated into shutting down his blog.

The Films Act contradicts the state-nurtured image of Singapore as a creative arts hub, as does propaganda by the government-controlled media. This act was invoked earlier this year when Martyn See's Singapore Rebel, a documentary on political dissident Chee Soon Juan, was withdrawn from the Singapore International Short Film Festival. The making, distribution and showing of films containing "wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter" is banned under the act, which provides for a two-year jail sentence or an $80,000 fine.

Creative thinking is alive, though, with political activist Yap Keng Ho filing a police complaint against Singapore's national broadcaster MediaCorp for allegedly violating the Films Act by screening a number of pro-PAP, party-political programs.

Significantly, such contradictions have not hitherto prevented a string of international educational institutions from conducting operations in the city-state. However, concerns about academic freedom weighed heavily when one of Britain's leading institutions, the University of Warwick, last month declined Singapore's invitation to set up a campus. This not only put Singapore authorities in damage control, it has raised the bar for all other courted institutions. Can the University of NSW, for instance, maintain its academic reputation without the formal and binding protections of academic freedom sought by Warwick's faculty? To genuinely realise its ambition of becoming a global schoolhouse, Singapore might have to make significant concessions. This is easier said than done.

The authoritarian PAP regime is not going to collapse any time soon. It has proved remarkably resilient precisely because it has been constantly modified. But new challenges present Singapore's leadership with a dilemma. Either it embarks on a successful new phase in refining the mechanisms of authoritarian rule or it will increasingly struggle to manage the inherent contradictions of its own success.

Garry Rodan is director of the Asia Research Centre and professor of politics and international studies at Murdoch University in Perth.

Related Articles:
Links with Burma
Silent Protest
Martyn See's Singapore Rebel
AcidFlask and AStar
University of Warwick

Artist's protest against death penalty silenced by Singapore censorship

This is a transcript from AM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 08:00 on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

AM - Monday, 28 November , 2005 08:00:00
Reporter: Lisa Millar
TONY EASTLEY: Singapore is a shopper's paradise and a protestor's nightmare.

It's illegal for more than four people to have an outside protest unless it's licensed, so open dissent in the island state is rare.

In 1989, post-Tiananmen Square Chinese populations around the world demonstrated publicly against Beijing's brutal crackdown, but not in Singapore.

So this week's execution of a convicted Australian drug smuggler isn't likely to cause any waves at all.

Indeed, the Singaporean Government is confident the majority of its citizens agree with its tough stance on drugs.

But as Lisa Millar reports from Singapore, there is one small group of local artists who are feeling the heavy hand of Singapore's censorship over Van Nguyen's case.

LISA MILLAR: Singapore's Lasalle College of Art invited students from around the world to spend two weeks observing life before showcasing their work.

ANNOUNCER: From Slovenia, Matija.

(Sound of applause)

LISA MILLAR: Matija Milkovic Biloslav from Slovenia produced a piece featuring a dozen nooses hanging from the ceiling, beneath them upturned stools.

Only one chair was standing, on it a rope and a card that read C856 - Van Nyugen's prison number.

Tonight's 7.30 Report reveals just how sensitive Singaporeans are about the death penalty. We were stopped from speaking to the artist. And the school's director objected, saying she wasn't dressed well enough for an interview.

AVIS FONTAINE: Oh well, we don't mind. I'm really not looking my best for this (laughs).

LISA MILLAR: Off camera she said she thought the artwork was about suicide. Her staff said any connection to Van Nguyen was a coincidence.

The school's dean, Milenko Pravachi, a Singaporean resident for more than a decade, said the student didn't intend to make a statement.

MILENKO PRAVACHI: They're looking for some kind of attractions, they're looking for some of the issues that they maybe want to highlight or question what is really normal, but I don't think that it's anything like a political statement in this case.

LISA MILLAR: Andy Ho, a senior writer with the Straits Times, says Singapore is unfairly portrayed as a tightly controlled nation.

ANDY HO: So the freedoms are always there. I don't think protests or dissent has been stifled at all. If people want to stand up and be counted, they are always free to do so. I sincerely think and believe and am convinced that the Government has no problem.

LISA MILLAR: But the college had a problem with this piece of art.

The day after the 7.30 Report's visit, the nooses remained but the card with Van Nguyen's prison number was blank. Other media were stopped from taking photos.

Andy Ho, though, says Singaporeans aren't sensitive about the decision to execute Van Nguyen; the death penalty still wins overwhelming support.

ANDY HO: Whether the law will be changed or not will depend, I think, on political developments in the future. But as it stands, absolutely, whoever breaks the law, regardless of nationality, will face a mandatory death sentence.

TONY EASTLEY: Andy Ho, a senior writer at The Straits Times newspaper in Singapore.

Related Links:
Emerging artists from across the globe to collaborate with LASALLE-SIA students in the first Asian Art Camp

27 Nov 2005

Anger in Australia as Singapore PM rejects Plea

From 24 x 7 updates
Australian Prime Minister, John Howard made another personal appeal to Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta on Saturday, Australian media reported on Sunday.

But Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rebuffed Howard’s fifth appeal for clemency for Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, and refused to allow the International Court of Justice to intervene, Howard told reporters in Malta where the two leaders attended a three-day Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

In a letter to Australian MPs, the Speaker of the Singapore Parliament said an example must be made of Nguyen.

"He was caught in possession of almost 400g of pure heroin, enough for more than 26,000 doses of heroin for drug addicts," Abdullah Tarmugi wrote to his Australian counterpart, David Hawker.

"He knew what he was doing and the consequences of his actions."

"There is broad-based concern in this country that what is going on here is simply not right and (that) we ourselves have things that we want to see Mr Van Nguyen do for us in terms of capturing the Mr Bigs of the drug industry and that simply cannot happen if his life has been terminated in Singapore."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark also raised Nguyen’s case during informal talks in Malta, media reported.

Singapore has one of the world’s toughest drug laws. Laws enacted in 1975 stipulate death by hanging for anyone aged 18 or over convicted of carrying more than 15 grams (0.5 ounce) of heroin, 30 grams (1.1 ounce) of cocaine, 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of cannabis or 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of methamphetamines.

Amnesty International said in a 2004 report that about 420 people had been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving the city-state of 4.2 million people the highest execution rate in the world relative to population.

Singapore's Anti-Death Penalty Campaign

Singaporeans have been fed one side of the story for the past 40 years or so. So much so that most of us have come to accept it as normal. The public's access to information on the issue of the Death Penalty in Singapore is a very important part of the campaign. But one can't rely on the hopelessly bias local media to provide the information. That's where this blog comes in to fill that void for information.

Public Forum LIVE Audio Recording

The forum that was held on 7.Nov.2005 was recorded, and this MP3 audio file is the essense of the recordings. Click on above link to download. It is approximately 58 minutes in length.

26 Nov 2005

Looming execution prompts call for suspended defence exercise

Looming execution prompts call for suspended defence exercise
Friday, 25 November 2005

The Greens are calling on the Federal Government to suspend Singapore's military activities in Australia unless the death sentence for an Australian drug trafficker is commuted.

Van Nguyen is due to hang in Singapore next Friday.

Thousands of Singapore troops are in central Queensland for their annual military exercise at Shoalwater Bay.

Greens' leader Bob Brown says Prime Minister John Howard should activate termination clauses in Australia's agreements with Singapore, over its mandatory death penalty.

"There is a lot the Prime Minister could be doing here, but it will take statesmanship, it will take a preparedness to use leverage on Singapore," he said.

"We have a lot of leverage, we should use some of it and Prime Minister Howard should use this military arrangement, which Singapore depends mightily on, to ensure that Singapore gets the message."

Senator Brown dismissed concerns the cutting of ties could hurt Rockhampton's economy.

Singapore sacks its hangman

There are somewhat conflicting reports coming out as to whether or not Darshan Singh has been sacked, fired, resigned or is now actually doing the hanging this Friday. The story does have an interest value only with reference to the plight of Van. It is nothing other than a distraction from the main focus of the issues surrounding the death penalty.

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."

From Our Own Correspondent

From Our Own Correspondent on the BBC covers numerous stories this week but one reporter Andrew Harding talks about a strange little city in South East Asia, a certain 73 year old who is attempting to resign from a job that has a murderous timetable and a young man by the name of Van Nguyen who is soon to be his latest assignment.

Also refers to the recent meeting against the death penalty in Singapore.

As far as I am concerned this report by the BBC is long overdue. The report from Andrew Harding starts at 00:17:00 and ends at 00:22:00. Really worth a listen.

To Download From Our Own Correspondent click here... Saturday, 26 November 2005

Related Video from ABC News.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has raised the case of Nguyen with Singapore's Prime Minister, independently of Australian efforts.

[Real Broadband] [Real Dialup] [Win Broadband] [Win Dialup]

Don't promise what you can't deliver: MM Lee

Weekend • November 26, 2005

ONE of Asia's most respected leaders, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's views on leadership were much sought after during his recent visits to both Dubai and New Delhi.

In a recent interview with India TV in New Delhi, Mr Lee stressed that a crucial factor in leadership was credibility.

He recounted how he gained credibility the hard way — by being knocked about by the communists and by having nasty conflicts with the communalists.

And Mr Lee said that this was when the people concluded he was not a fake and was prepared to put his life on the line.

Speaking at a memorial lecture in the name of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr Lee dished out some advice to India's young politicians.

"I think the first thing they must remember is to not promise something they can't deliver. It sounds good at election time but three years later, they become empty words.

"You know you couldn't produce it, you promised this, you're not credible and you lose credibility," said Mr Lee.

He added: "You take George W Bush, he's a tough man, 9-11, if you saw him on television at the World Trade Centre, he took that bullhorn and he says to the firemen; 'I heard you and the world will hear from you'.

"And he went to Afghanistan and he hit the Taliban. Now he's in trouble in Iraq, but he's not a quitter. If he has good policies out of this chaos to establish a stabilised Iraq, maybe not a full democracy, but a stabilised Iraq with a properly democratic Iraqi elected government, his credibility will be very high, he'll go down in glory.

"And there's still a chance, in fact, I believe he's going to fight to create that. I think you want that kind of leader.

"Of course, his opponents say he's misled us into a wrong war but they were the people who voted for the war.

"Everybody believed there were weapons of mass destruction including the intelligence agencies.

"I would say that's leadership," Singapore's first prime minister said.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.


I can't help being disturbed when our leaders started commenting on the situation in other countries but I think this one cuts the cake. Not everyone believed that there were weapons of mass destruction before the war begun. Moreover, George Bush went to war despite lacking UN and home support. What does Mr Lee mean when he said "they were the people who voted for the war"

Last I know, Bush did not call for a referendum before he attacked Iraq and there were obviously strong opposition from the grounds. There were worldwide protests before the war begun. 3 million people in Rome against the war which is listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the largest ever anti-war rally. Millions of people protested, in approximately 800 cities around the world. The event was listed by the 2004 Guiness Book of Records as the largest mass protest movement in history. When a few Singaporeans tried to protest outside the American embassy pre Iraqi invasion, our police hauled those protestors away and gave them a stern warning. Do we want seriously want to endorse leadership despite protests from the ground?

Dr Chee trains guns on foreign media, former Australian PM

Weekend • November 26, 2005
Derrick A Paulo

Opposition figure Dr Chee Soon Juan has long criticised the local media for feeding Singaporeans with only the Government's views.

On Friday, he admitted he has also been disappointed with the foreign media for the longest time.

Speaking at a lunch with foreign and local journalists, Dr Chee said that international media organisations with offices here either "stay away from critical and hard-nosed reporting" or self-censor political stories on Singapore.

He claimed that overseas publications, too, have "capitulated in every instance" to the Singaporean authorities.

The Government's stance that foreign media should not meddle in Singapore's domestic affairs has long been established.

However, Dr Chee questioned the foreign media's objectivity.

"That is exactly why I am so vexed. By self-censoring or completely staying away from reporting Singaporean politics, are you being neutral?" he asked members of the Foreign Correspondents' Association.

An example of this, he claimed, was the lack of coverage on the growing civil society and activism here.

"In the past 12 months, we've seen some Singaporeans finally become more active in speaking up, that you'd never have seen in the years past.

"And it's the most disheartening, discouraging feeling when they get into trouble and the foreign media stays away, doesn't want to report," he said.

However, the "bigger point" for Dr Chee is that other governments are following Singapore's method of handling the media. He mentioned Thailand and China.

"People are looking at Singapore ... How do you do it? To be able to continue to keep this facade that you are a well-run society, have the popular backing of the people," he said.

"They are learning. They see Singapore as a model. I do worry that are we going to see a rollback (of democracy)."

Interestingly, while he has been criticised for joining the Australian chorus against the government over the impending execution of Nguyen Tuong Van, he took umbrage at former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam's characterisation of Singapore as a "rogue Chinese port city".

"In the first place, Singapore is a nation and not just a port city ... To use language that does not recognise this fact is disrespectful to the people of Singapore," Dr Chee wrote to the Australian High Commission.

"Second, Singapore is not 'Chinese'. Our population is made up of various ethnic groups including Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, and smaller communities of various ethnicities. We call ourselves Singaporeans, not Chinese."

He added that many Singaporeans disagreed with the Singapore Government and were praying that the execution would not take place.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

Chee replies to PAP supporters: Is the life of a Singaporean that cheap compared to a foreigner's?

25 Nov 05

Below is the letter Dr Chee Soon Juan sent to Today and Straits Times in reply to letters published in the newspapers' forum pages on 24 Nov 05.

I am not surprised that the Government-controlled media has again portrayed me as a “traitor” out to “undermine” Singapore. This is exactly the tactic the press is adopting with the flurry of letters published. (24 Nov 2005)

It merely confirms my suspicion that the Government cannot answer the questions and arguments that I and other Singaporeans have raised about the execution of small-time drug couriers. As a result, it resorts to labeling me as a traitor in the belief that if you smear the messenger, you don’t have to address the message. It’s an age-old tactic.

Singapore is reported to be the biggest business partner of Burma with US$1.5 billion worth of investments. Former US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gelbard stated that “since 1998 over half of [the investments from] Singapore have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.''

There are reports that Lo Hsing Han now operates a deepwater port in Rangoon and a highway from the center of Burma's poppy–growing region to the China border, facilities well-suited for exporting drugs.

Remember, the drugs that flow from Burma are ones that our youth consume. If the PAP is really concerned about the scourge of drug abuse, why did it do business with a notorious drug lord and, hypocritically, take the moral high ground by executing drug couriers many of whom are Singaporeans.

Let me ask the questions that I have been asking since 1997: Will the Government open its books so that we can verify if our GIC funds are still invested in projects linked with Lo Hsing Han? What steps has the Government taken to pressure the Burmese regime to crackdown on drug kingpins like Lo? Why does our Government continue to trade with the Burmese junta when it has been shown that the military has close ties with narco-producers like Lo?

In addition, Singapore has been fingered in the laundering of Burma’s drug money. Bruce Hawke, an expert on narco-trafficking in Burma, wrote: “The entry [of drug money] to the legitimate global banking system is not Burma but Singapore.” Is this true?

I have been raising these questions since 1997 but each time the local media assiduously blacks them out. Other arguments against the mandatory death penalty for drug peddlers raised by people like Dr Anthony Yeo, Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Mr M Ravi, Mr Alex Au, Mr Sinapan Samydorai, and Brother Michael Broughton have similarly been censored.

The same arguments were raised when a Singaporean, Mr Shanmugam s/o Murugesu, was executed in May this year. I brought up the Singapore-Burma affair then when we were fighting to save Mr Shanmugam as I am doing now for Mr Nguyen Van Tuong.

The only reason why this issue has gained more prominence now is because the Australian media, which unlike its Singapore counterpart are not controlled by the state, have seen it necessary to highlight it.

Criticising our government for killing small-time drug peddlers while doing business with drug lords is necessary. Whether it is a Singaporean or an Australian who is going to dangle at the end of the rope is immaterial. A life is a life and if we are going to take it, let us be absolutely clear of the excruciating hypocrisy that currently exists.

Ms Siow Jia Rui argues that Singapore’s laws must be allowed to “run their course” and that “no other country has a right to interfere.” If that is the case then why was the charge for Ms Julia Bohl reduced after the German ambassador and government had mounted a diplomatic campaign on her behalf, meeting several senior Singaporean ministers in the process. Within months several of the charges were dropped and the amount of drugs she was accused of carrying was reduced from 687g to 281g. She escaped the gallows and served about three years for her crime. Is this not outside interference in Singapore’s justice system?

Ms Siow continues that laws in Singapore are “applied fairly across the board to Singaporeans and foreigners alike.” The life of Julia Bohl, a German, was spared because of pressure from the German Government. What about the life of Mr Shanmugam, a Singaporean who served in the army and did Singapore proud by winning medals in ski competitions? Ms Bohl served three years in prison but Mr Shanmugam was hanged. Is a Singaporean’s life so cheap compared to a foreigner’s?

I have no doubt that when Singaporeans come to hear both sides of the debate, a debate that the media is determined to quash, they will reject the hypocrisy and discrimination of the PAP Government.

Singapore Democratic Party

25 Nov 2005

Singapore press unmoved by clemency pleas for Nguyen

This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.


PM - Friday, 25 November , 2005 17:22:00
Reporter: Lisa Millar
MARK COLVIN: More about the press and other reaction from Singapore now from Lisa Miller who's in Singapore and joins me on the line now.

Lisa, Daniel just mentioned in passing the Straits Times editorial there.

What about the rest of the media? Are they getting slightly more concerned about the Australian reaction than they have been?

LISA MILLER: Well, the Straits Times is what we had actually been pointed to. In fact, I was speaking to some local reporters when I first arrived here and said to them - reporters who worked for Reuters and AAP and the like - and I asked them how they got on operating here in Singapore, because I had already found so much difficulty trying to get access to any members of Parliament or anyone who was prepared to speak publicly to me.

And they said they have the same trouble even though they live and work here in Singapore, and they said to watch out for editorials in the Straits Times, that rather than holding a press conference the government will make sure that its thoughts and its opinions are being read.

So of course this morning the Reuters reporter actually rang me and said have you seen this editorial? This is very important. This is not just a newspaper editorial. This is the main English language daily.

And when we talk about the free press in Australia as we know it, that is not how people regard the Straits Times, that it is very closely connected to the governing party, the People's Action Party, and anything that is written in the party can basically be taken to reflect the government position.

And so we've got this editorial right next to a very lengthy feature piece by a senior writer who sets out a very complicated but interesting defence of the death penalty.

And when you put that on top of what we've seen over the last few days - we had the letter from the Speaker of the Parliament sent to David Hawker in Australia and we also had a press release that came out of here after the meeting with Rob Hos (sic) and Ho Peng Kee the Minister of State and Home Affairs…


LISA MILLER: … Rob Hulls, sorry, and Ho Peng Kee. And Ho Peng Kee put out a press release basically saying, thanks very much for coming but this is our opinion, this is how it stands and it absolutely isn't going to change.

So there's certainly been a real push in the strength and the tough stance from the Singapore Government and I think it's culminated with this editorial and the feature in the paper today.

MARK COLVIN: So, as you say, Singapore doesn't have a particularly free press. But any other outlets talking about it at all?

LISA MILLER: No, not at all. All we've seen is reports in the Straits Times. It's not been on any of the local television programs. And when we have gone to the prison to see the family arriving or have turned up at the press conferences with Rob Hulls as we did yesterday, there haven't been any local media who've been taking an interest in it at all.

Of course the anti-death penalty campaigners have been desperate to try and get some publicity here and even the stories that are making it into the Straits Times are really just clutching onto the rebuttals that have occurred. So it…

MARK COLVIN: And Lisa, no real reaction to the rumblings from Australia, some in newspapers and some from individuals, about boycotts of Singaporean products?

LISA MILLER: No. And that wasn't touched on today in this editorial either. It almost seemed to make fun, in a way, describing as in that earlier report that the execution is churning up quite a wash of angst from across the seas. But we're not seeing any sort of concern about the trade sanctions. I don't believe that they feel that that is a real threat.

MARK COLVIN: And what about any pressure that might or might not come on at CHOGM. They feel unthreatened by that as well?

LISA MILLER: Well, they do, and Ho Peng Kee was asked… Rob Hulls was asked whether Ho Peng Kee had given him any guarantee or indication that the letter that came from the Victorian Premier would actually be passed on to the Prime Minister immediately at CHOGM rather than waiting until he returns from his lengthy trip - I understand he's going on after CHOGM to see other people - so, there was no guarantee whether that letter was going to be passed on.

They feel that they are so right with this decision, that this is their laws, it's their country and they almost cannot understand that Australians think that it can just be altered, that leniency can be granted, that clemency can be granted just like that. This is the message they're trying to get through.

MARK COLVIN: Alright, Lisa Miller, thank you very much, as the clock runs down in Singapore for Van Nguyen.

Former leaders call on Singapore to grant reprieve for Nguyen

This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

PM - Friday, 25 November , 2005 17:18:00
Reporter: Daniel Hoare
MARK COLVIN: Australia's backlash against Singapore continued today.

Former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser all joined the chorus of politicians and lawyers calling for Nguyen to be spared the death penalty.

But Malcolm Fraser has told PM that Singapore would only ever bow to private diplomacy in such a case. He says the public backlash has been counter-productive.

Mr Fraser says the Nguyen case should spark renewed efforts to abolish the death penalty in all Commonwealth nations.

And Justice Ronald Sackville, the Chairman of the Judicial Conference of Australia, says Singapore has ignored its own constitution in the case of Van Nguyen.

This report from Daniel Hoare.

DANIEL HOARE: In the absence of a miracle, this time next week, Van Nguyen will have been hanged. But that hasn't stopped the growing chorus of opposition to the death penalty handed out to him.

Former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke have all called for the Singaporean Government to grant Van Nguyen an eleventh hour reprieve.

Mr Whitlam told Southern Cross Radio today that the issue needs to be raised at this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Singapore has a very thick skin in these matters. But the point is that the matter should be raised at CHOGM, and this is a matter which should be discussed in the Commonwealth, which has a very wide coverage around the world.

DANIEL HOARE: But the man who succeeded Mr Whitlam as Prime Minister has told PM that raising the Nguyen matter at the CHOGM meeting won't achieve anything.

Malcolm Fraser didn't want to speak on tape when PM contacted him this afternoon, but he was happy to put his views on the record.

Mr Fraser says the only approach which might have convinced the Singaporean Government to spare the life of Van Nguyen would have been private diplomacy.

Mr Fraser agrees with Prime Minister John Howard, who has, throughout the case, firmly rejected the use of what he calls 'megaphone diplomacy'.

Malcolm Fraser says the Nguyen case should spark a fresh look at the use of the death penalty by Commonwealth nations.

He says a panel of judges should be appointed by the Commonwealth countries to make recommendations about how to convince all member nations to abolish the death penalty.

Justice Ronald Sackville, who chairs the Judicial Conference of Australia, which represents over 550 judges and magistrates, has joined the growing criticism of the Singaporean Government.

Justice Sackville says the judges in the Van Nguyen case may have breached the country's constitution.

RONALD SACKVILLE: The Singapore Constitution provides that all persons are entitled to equal protection before law. That is a provision which is similar to one found in the United States Constitution and it's also found in many human rights instruments throughout the world. Of course, it's not found in Australia because we don't have a Bill of Rights.

The interpretation that was taken by the Singapore Court of Appeal in this very case involving Mr Nguyen was a rather narrow view. Of course, it is a matter for the Singapore courts as to how they interpret their own constitution, but the point we are making is that that particular interpretation might be thought to be somewhat out of step.

DANIEL HOARE: Despite an unprecedented backlash in Australia against its use of the death penalty in the case of Van Nguyen, the Singaporean Government has made its intransigence strikingly clear.

The country's state-controlled newspaper, the Straits Times, today published a pointed editorial for anyone wishing to test its drug laws. The editorial warned:

"More Australians can expect to face the death penalty here because too many choose to dice with death."

The newspaper said that Van Nguyen's looming execution had "churned up a wash of angst from across the seas".

MARK COLVIN: That report from Daniel Hoare.

Fears Singapore execution linked to shortened military exercise

From ABC News

A former RSL official says the forthcoming execution of an Australian drug trafficker in Singapore may have led to a military exercise being cut short in central Queensland.

Former Rockhampton RSL president Keith Joyce says he has been told the Singapore Armed Forces have cut the exercise at Shoalwater Bay by a week, and are now due to fly out by December 2, the day that Van Nguyen is due to hang.

Mr Joyce says there is concern about a possible backlash towards Singapore troops in central Queensland.

He says Singapore's refusal to stop the execution is damaging valuable military ties.

"I see the aircraft coming over my house every day, the trucks going past with the armoured vehicles on them," he said.

"We have obviously a very close link with Singapore and if the pleas of our Government, of our Prime Minister and of our Foreign Minister aren't having any effect on them, it makes me wonder why we are so closely involved with them at all."

New scams uncovered to sneak Indonesian prostitutes into Singapore

The Jakarta Post

SINGAPORE (DPA): New scams used by pimps have been uncovered to sneak women from Indonesia's Batam island into Singapore to work as prostitutes, a news report said Friday.

The most common ruses are fake marriage documents, forged doctor's referral letters and posing as tourists, The Straits Times revealed.

With fake marriage papers, a Singaporean man and a Batam woman pass themselves off as a married couple. A 42-year-old man was nabbed with 23 so-called marriages to his name.

The forged physician referral letters claim that the women need to visit Singapore for medical treatments including surgeries.

Those posing as tourists produce at least 500 Singapore dollars (US$295) as proof to immigration authorities that they want to visit or see relatives.

The women are often older than and less attractive than prostitutes at home, said Batam social worker Martje-Rogi.

"They are not sellable in Batam, so they try their luck in Singapore," she was quoted as saying.

Hundreds of men primarily from Singapore travel to the nearby island on weekends for sex, often with girls in their early teens.

The latest tactics by trafficking syndicates follow a vice crackdown by Singapore police, Comr. Bonny Djianto, chief of the Batam police station, told the newspaper.

Syndicates usually consist of a Singaporean chief, an Indonesian agent who procures the prostitutes and their fake documents, and a Singaporean runner who accompanies the women.

A suspect arrested for his alleged role in one of the syndicates estimates that there are 10 to 15 Singaporean syndicate chiefs and 20 to 30 minders who help run the sex trade into the city-state.

Singapore opposition leader says foreign media shy away from political reporting

(Updated 05:35 p.m.)


The international media often avoids reporting on politics in Singapore because it fears lawsuits and financial penalties imposed by the government, an opposition leader said Friday.

Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, said foreign correspondents based in Singapore engage in "self-censorship" on sensitive issues, and he urged journalists to interview activists who campaign for more political freedom.

"Talk to them. It's the most disheartening, discouraging feeling when they get in trouble and the foreign media stays away from it and doesn't report it," Chee said at a lunch hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association.

Some foreign news organizations have paid large fines or had their circulation restricted from lawsuits brought by members of Singapore's ruling People's Action Party. Those organizations include the Economist magazine, The International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Asian Wall Street Journal.

Singaporean authorities have said they welcome the foreign media as long as it is objective and takes into account the viewpoint of the tightly controlled country.

Last week, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan, South Korea, that hundreds of magazines were available in Singapore, the Internet was easily available and that many international media organizations had offices there.

"If you're reporting the facts, you have nothing to fear," Lee said. "All we ask is the right to put our position on the record."

Chee, however, said foreign media, some of which have regional offices in Singapore, were likely to put "corporate interests" above the principles of their profession.

Chee currently faces bankruptcy after he was ordered to pay a fine to Singapore's former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, for defaming them during an election campaign in 2001.

He has said he won't pay the amount, but the impasse curtails his political activities because the law bars bankrupt people from running for public office.

The ruling party holds 82 out of 84 elected seats in Parliament.

"Are you being completely neutral?" Chee said at the lunch with foreign reporters. "I am just very concerned that our only line of communication with the international community is also being slowly, gradually choked."

Singapore's media face strict censorship, while home TV satellite units remain off-limits.

The government says its tight media regulations help maintain harmony, that it does not seek to implement the features of a Western-style liberal democracy and that local journalists must be sensitive to national interests.