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Aussie to hang in Singapore
By Kimina Lyall - 21oct04

Distraught ... tearful mother Kim Nguyen leaves court with the family lawyer yesterday / AP

SINGAPORE'S highest court demonstrated yesterday its brutal intolerance of drug trafficking, dismissing the appeal of Australian Nguyen Tuong Van against his death penalty in a hearing lasting less than two minutes.

Nguyen's fate now rests with Singapore's President, S.R. Natham, in an appeal for clemency his lawyers and the Australian Government will rush to prepare.

If that process, which could take six months, fails, Nguyen will be led from his prison cell and hung by the neck early one Friday morning, becoming the first Australian to be executed in more than a decade and the first by the Singaporean Government.

Nguyen, 24, who was convicted in March of trafficking 396g of heroin through Singapore's Changi airport, had been praying the three judges of the Court of Appeal would release him from death row, according to his mother, Kim.

"He always prays and keeps hope like me," she said before the hearing.

But judge Lai Kew Chai took less than a minute to decree that the two appeals - one against his conviction, the other against his sentence - were dismissed, without so much as a personal remark to the young man in bright orange overalls before him.

Nguyen momentarily hung his head but showed no emotion as he was led from the dock, pausing only to tell his lawyer: "I'll see you this afternoon." His mother was initially speechless, burying her face in her hands.

She later told The Australian: "Help my family, help my son. He is very young. He made a mistake. Please forgive him. I don't know what happened to my family. I don't know any bad people.

"It's not fair."

Nguyen, who along with his twin brother, Khao, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, had lived in Australia since he was a toddler.

He told police he agreed to transport the drugs from Phnom Penh to Melbourne in order to help his brother out of financial difficulties.

The men who gave him the drugs in Cambodia threatened to kill his mother if he did not go through with the plan. He had no idea who he was working for, only that he was to be met by a man in Melbourne who would tell him he liked basketball.

On his first trip outside Australia, the former boy scout was caught with the drugs during transit at Changi airport in December 2002, as he tried to board a Qantas flight to Melbourne.

After setting off the metal detector, Nguyen was patted down by security officers who discovered the packages, after which he cried and revealed the full story.

Singapore has executed more than 400 people since 1991, according to Amnesty International, which accuses the country of having the highest per- capita rate in the world. In almost 40 years, just six appeals for clemency have been successful.

Four of those were for murder, and the two drug-related clemency appeals were for women whose partners in crime were executed.

The decision puts a new strain on relations between Australia and Singapore as the President's decision will be made on the advice of cabinet, led by new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Singapore has traditionally been Australia's best friend in south east Asia.

Australian high commissioner to Singapore Gary Quinlan said the Federal Government believed "there are very strong compassionate and very specific humanitarian concerns in this case".

Downer wants clemency for condemned man

The Federal Government will appeal to Singapore's President for clemency for a Melbourne man who has been sentenced to death there.

The death penalty was imposed on Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, in March after he was found guilty of smuggling almost 400 grams of heroin into Singapore.

Yesterday, a Singaporean court rejected an appeal against both his conviction and his sentence.

His only chance to escape the death penalty now is to ask Singapore's President, SR Nathan, for clemency.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says he does not want to see a young Australian executed.

"He's obviously been convicted by the courts, so on the face of it we've got to accept the decision of the court," Mr Downer told Southern Cross Radio.

"It's now just a question of the sentence and we hope that by appealing to the President of Singapore that it'll be possible to get clemency granted and ... Mr Nguyen serve an appropriate custodial sentence in Singapore," he said.

The Victorian Government has also said it will do all it can to save Nguyen's life. Attorney-General Rob Hulls says the state will assist the Commonwealth in any way it can.

"This young Victorian man has been convicted of a serious drug offence and is the first Australian citizen to be sentenced to death in Singapore," he said.

"The Victorian Government is vehemently opposed to the death penalty and we'll do all we can to work with the Federal Government in any efforts to save the life of Mr Nguyen."

Australian loses Singapore death sentence appeal

An appeal by an Australian citizen against the death sentence for smuggling drugs has been dismissed by Singapore's appeals court.

Nguyen Tuong Van was sentenced to death in March after being found guilty of smuggling about 400 grams of heroin into the country in December 2002.

His only hope of escaping the gallows is to receive clemency from Singapore's President S R Nathan. If the petition fails, Nguyen will be the first Australian citizen to be executed in Singapore.

The death sentence in Singapore, which is mandatory for drug trafficking, is carried out by hanging.

Nguyen was arrested at Changi airport on his way home to Melbourne from Cambodia.

At his trial the 25-year-old was said to have had one packet of heroin strapped to his back and another in his hand luggage when he was stopped for a routine check.

The defence had argued that Nguyen's confessions to Singapore police were inadmissible, the integrity of the heroin presented as evidence was compromised, and Singapore's death penalty was unconstitutional.

All three arguments were rejected by Singapore's three-member appeal court led by Chief Justice Yong Pung How.

Clemency bid

His lawyer Lex Lasry QC says he will be appealing for clemency.

"We will of course now prepare an application for clemency to the President of Singapore and the Australian Government has this morning announced through the High Commissioner that they'll support that application," he said.

It could be next year before Nguyen's fate is decided.

Mr Lasry says the bid for mercy could take up to six months to process.

"We put in a petition or an application, it's directed to the President," he said.

"As I understand it, the President acts on the advice of the Singapore Cabinet and it's a process that takes some months.

"I think we've got something like three months to file that application, which of course we will do and it may take another three or so on top of that to make a decision."

Australian High Commissioner Gary Quinlan says the Australian Government will fully support the appeal.

"There are very specific compassionate and humanitarian circumstances which surround this case," he said.

"The Australian Government has always been very conscious of those and we will continue to support the appeal processes for clemency based on that very strong compassionate case.

"Mr Nguyen is an Australian citizen and we will continue to provide him with all the consular assistance we can.

"There still is a decision-making process to be gone through here in Singapore and we don't want to speculate on that because it won't help Mr Nguyen himself."

The Australian Government had previously made high-level appeals to Singapore officials to spare Nguyen, an ethnic Vietnamese from Melbourne, from the death penalty if his conviction was not set aside.

Court ruling

The appeal court's ruling said Nguyen was in "serious financial difficulties" when he was contacted in October 2002 by two persons who asked him to transport a "package" from Cambodia to Melbourne or Sydney.

"It was clear that he wanted to earn money by transporting drugs," the ruling said.

"He flew to Phnom Penh, where members of a drug syndicate provided him with the heroin for transportation via Singapore."

Nguyen had told police he was transporting the drugs to help his debt- ridden brother.

Singapore made the death penalty mandatory for drug traffickers and murderers in 1975.

Anyone caught with more than 15 grams of heroin in Singapore is assumed to be importing or trafficking the drug.

About 400 people have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving the wealthy city-state of 4.2 million people possibly the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population, Amnesty International says.

Singapore has proven repeatedly that foreigners are not exempt from execution despite potential diplomatic repercussions and criticism from human rights groups.

-- ABC/AFP

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff