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Old 11-27-2005, 06:10 AM   #1
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Van Tuong Nguyen

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From The Times, UK

25 November 2005

Nation rallies to save the life of 'selfless' drug mule
By Richard Lloyd Parry

Time is running out for a man facing death penalty for ferrying heroin
to pay his brother's debts

Campaigners hand out leaflets during a vigil in Sydney as support for
Van Tuong Nguyen grows (REUTERS/WILL BURGESS)

SINGAPORE executes more people per capita than any other country so,
by local standards at least, there will be nothing remarkable about
the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen. Just before 6am next Friday, after a
final meeting with his mother and his last meal, Nguyen will be
handcuffed and led from his cell to the execution chamber of Changi
prison.
Darshan Singh, the 73-year-old hangman, will place the hood over
Nguyen's head, the noose around his neck and spring the trapdoor. In a
46-year career, he has executed more than 850 prisoners.

In one respect alone this one will be unusual: Nguyen is an Australian
and, as he enters the last week of his life, the 25-year-old's
predicament has caused national indignation in his home country.

Australian activists have called for a boycott of Singaporean goods
and companies. Letters of protest have poured in to the Singapore
Government.

John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, Alexander Downer, the
Foreign Minister, and the present and late Pope have appealed
unsuccessfully for clemency.

All this for a self-confessed drug smuggler whose name was unknown to
most Australians until a few weeks ago. In the past year there have
been a number of high-profile cases involving young Australians
charged with drug offences abroad, but in none of them have the facts
of the case been so clear — or so pathetic — as that of Van Tuong
Nguyen.

He was arrested at Changi airport in Singapore in December 2002,
carrying 396g of pure heroin. His full and immediate confession has
never been disputed by the defence, and the poignant details of his
wellintentioned stupidity are the source of much of the sympathy for
him in Australia.

He was born in a Thai refugee camp to a Vietnamese boat refugee, who
raised him and his twin brother, Khoa, alone. He grew up in Melbourne,
joined the Scouts, worked part-time at McDonald's and is described by
those who know him as a decent, cheerful and dutiful young man. He was
working as a computer salesman when his twin began to get into
trouble.

Khoa started taking drugs and ended up with two convictions and legal
fees amounting to A$30,000 (£13,000). It was to pay off his brother's
debts, Van Tuong Nguyen has always maintained, that he agreed to act
as a "mule" for a group of drug dealers based in Sydney.

Soon after he flew to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, things began
to go wrong. Mr Nguyen was instructed to reduce the heroin to a fine
powder in a coffee grinder and strap it to his body in two slim
packages.

"I didn't really know how to go about doing that," he told the
Singaporean police. "So I just did what I thought would work."

On the plane one of the packages became so uncomfortable that he
pulled it off his abdomen and slipped it into his backpack. Changing
planes in Singapore, he passed through a metal detector, which was set
off by his metal-rimmed sunglasses. The guard who frisked him felt the
second packet strapped to his back.

"He asked me what that was and I replied, 'It's heroin, sir'," Mr
Nguyen said. "He asked me if I was sure. I told him, 'Of course'."

After his arrest he showed consistent remorse and co-operated fully
with the authorities. Information that he provided to the Australian
police led to the arrest of a drug dealer in Sydney. But Singaporean
law is clear and unbending: for quantities of more than 15g of heroin,
death by hanging is not the maximum penalty, but the mandatory one.

Darshan Singh hanged 138 people between 1998 and 2003, and 110 of them
were not murderers, rapists or gun runners, but drug traffickers.

Last year a UN report revealed that Singapore executes a higher
proportion of its population than any other country; 13.57 per one
million of population, compared with 4.65 per million in Saudi Arabia
and 2 per million in China.

The Think Centre, one of the city state's few anti-capital punishment
NGOs, asked: "If this inhumane practice is really a deterrent, how
come, after 40 years of executions, we still have the highest per
capita execution rate in the world, with the greatest known proportion
of these executions small-time drug mules?"

Mr Howard has appealed for mercy, but Mr Nguyen's supporters accused
him of expressing insufficient indignation. Having passively endorsed
the death penalty for the Bali bombers who killed so many Australians,
he is not best placed to denounce Singapore for the same sentence,
they say.

After a slow start, the Australian media is devoting great attention
to the story, especially to the anguish of Mr Nguyen's mother, Kim,
and to the twin, Khoa.

He wrote a letter to his friends and supporters that sounds very like
a final goodbye. "I've thought long and hard about the content, the
topics and the words that will fill this page," it reads. "Just know
that I'm thinking of you and praying for you every day . . . I love
you with all my heart, take care, be strong."

TOUGH JUSTICE

Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina maid, was hanged in 1994 for killing
another Filipina, provoking widespread condemnation

Chewing gum is banned, although authorities have allowed gum designed
to help smokers to quit

In May 1994, Michael P. Fay, an American teenager, was caned for car
theft and vandalism, despite pleas from the US Government that the
punishment was excessive

Litterbugs are made to pick up rubbish to rehabilitate and shame the
offender and deter others

Offences that can incur fines include jaywalking, spitting and failing
to flush a toilet correctly

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
The arguments have been covered by the thread on Schapelle Corby. I don't like the tagged on sentences at the end of this article, trying to make Singapore look as draconian as possible (people do jaywalk and chew gum, and not get fined)... Anyway, 6am next Friday a life will be snuffed out. I'm pessimistic of any clemency, I just hope he is able to find peace.

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Old 11-27-2005, 06:24 AM   #2
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I think that the efforts by the bleeding hearts is over the top, they couldn't care less about him before and now it's only there to backhand Howard. As far as international arrogance goes you see it very clearly when various people start demanding that Singapore has a different set of laws for Australian citizens who commit crimes. In an ideal world countries would not have punishments like this, but we live in the world as it is and we often have to accept that actions in certain places will be met with concequence and smuggling Heroin in SE Asia is one of these.
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Old 11-27-2005, 07:43 AM   #3
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Bleeding hearts, give me a fucking break. It's called compassion. You're sounding like one of those hardcore fundie Chrisitians, A_W.

I'm not at all familiar with anyone specifically claiming that any of these countries enforces a different set of laws for Australians. All I see is outrage that our piss weak fucking government who have a chronic case of wankers cramp, are absolutely impotent when it comes to doing something for any of our citizens who are in trouble.

Personally, I dont agree at all with the barbaric and ridiculous laws of many of these nations in regards to drugs. I dont condone drugs and believe trafficking should be a highly punishable offence. But not with life. And not with something as archaic as hanging, if this ridiculously excessive law must be upheld by these equally consitpated governments.

Another problem is the complacency that we just accept. Pfft. WHy, if we dont agree with it? And guess what? A shitload of people dont agree with it and have the godamned right to complain. I see government as having a very definite role in looking out for the people who elect them, and Howard and his limp dicked party get no exemptions. As a citizen, albeit a tragically stupid one, Van Tuong Nguyen has full right to ask that his own government seek to protect him. Why are his rights overruled by Singapore's? It's not about turf, after all. Unless anyone completely believes that we are not all equal or some such other tripe. Forget this tangent, actually.

I dont know why I'm bothering. These cases make me sick. Cold hearted indifference makes me sick.
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Old 11-27-2005, 07:57 AM   #4
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It is about sovereignty, I fully support drugs and drug use if people want to do it to whatever end, I think that a legal system would end traffiking and increase the quality and decrease the price of drugs and this extends all the way up to cocaine and heroin. Waging a war on drugs doesn't stem supply or stop the problem and these SE Asian governments have not been able to stop it with capital punishment.

Calls for the federal government to compromise economic interests as a punitive measure due to the decision of Singapores judiciary is flawed. The government has a duty to make appeals for clemency, which it has. It should rigourously pursue every legitimate avenue until exhaustion, it should not however begin having fundamental shifts in policy on the basis of a criminal punishment.

What would you have them do? Suspend trade with Singapore until they reduce the sentence? boycott goods from Singapore? Send the SAS in to break him out?

They execute their own citizens over this, beyond making appeals for clemency there really isn't anything else a responsible government can do. Messing up diplomatic and trade relations over it would be irresponsible populist policies that would be detrimental to the national interest.
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Old 11-27-2005, 08:14 AM   #5
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I dont believe I've ever suggested that we break trade agreements or boycott companies and all that, as quite simply I find that avenue rather futile and completely beside the point. What you're doing is lumping everyone of the opposite opinion together. And it's a false assumption.

Actually, forget all this, too. It's too late to argue these points.

Your first paragraph however seems to almost contradict itself. You believe in the right to use and take drugs as individuals desire, and see harm in restrictions as you highlighted - so why the complacency then? Since when is respect or an idea worth more than any human life? Or do your views on drugs and trafficking not really mean that much, and...no, wait on. You think this whole process is as ridiculous as I do, by the sounds of it. But not enough to care about this young fool's life? I'm not following your logic, to be honest.
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Old 11-27-2005, 08:25 AM   #6
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It's not complacency, it is a legal matter. You break the law in another country, you are given a trial, sentenced and then exaust your avenues of appeal there really isn't much that your government can do to help you out.

I favour a system of legalised drug use and sale, but that is personal preference. It is independent of the laws of Singapore or any other country, the issue here is that a the crime is a capital offence in the other country, when you are in that country you are (usually) subject to that same criminal law. So when you break the law you will be charged under those laws and face trial.

The government has a duty to look out for it's citizens and it's interests but not by infringing on another nations sovereignty in these matters.

I would dearly like to know what more you think that the current government could do to get a stay of execution or reduced sentence.
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Old 11-27-2005, 08:48 AM   #7
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It comes across as complacency when you broadly sweep aside all objections as being from bleeding hearts - as though the alternate opinion is fraught with errors and based on some daisy chain weaving hippy-ology. Anyway, I shall get over this and move on.

It seems again, though, you might be misunderstanding the opposing viewpoint. I can only speak for me, but I am fully aware of the issue of their rights to uphold their own laws. Here is where we can slip in some alternate examples to back up the argument. Take Saudi Arabia for example. I'd never travel there and walk around in shorts and a singlet. I think their laws on clothing and treatment of women in general is deplorable, but I'd follow the rules. Van Nguyen should have as well. He acted foolishly. But that doesn't mean I can easily and readily accept his death under the circumstances it falls under.

In most of these cases, I start (and only start) to wonder if another country really has the right to enforce it's laws on the citizen of another country. Visa and entry requirements in most places are going to dictate you enter under the strict agreement to tow the line and do as the Romans do, etc. In the interests of the host country, this is to protect their interests and laws that define their way of life, yada yada. Yep, fine. Lets take Australia, though. We dont have any death penalty. We believe our citizens have the absolute right to live and stay alive regardless. So I guess it leads to the question, is there ever a chance of compromise? They are anal about drugs, ok. A harsh sentence must be implemented to respond to that. While we dont let our own die in any legal or willful manner. Prisoner exchange, and Van Nguyen to spend the rest of his life alive, but behind bars in an Australian prison? Dont take this as my absolutely steadfast opinion. I only half heartedly think about this as another alternative when this issue comes up, because it annoys me and I give up.
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Old 11-27-2005, 07:02 PM   #8
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Imagine the burden of guilt his brother will have to live with.
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Old 11-28-2005, 06:58 AM   #9
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"A new heart is what I need. Oh God, make it bleed."
If being against the death penalty in all circumstances makes me a bleeding heart, then my heart will bleed forever.
How a compassionate society deals with serious drug addiction, that is a whole 'nother question.
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Old 11-28-2005, 09:58 AM   #10
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Someone I know has set up a petition website to monitor the case; it seems fairly futile now though.

http://www.stophanging.com

Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for Nguyen, but the law is extremely clear on this. I'd love to see the death penalty abolished but it's really not going to happen in this country.
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Old 12-01-2005, 04:12 PM   #11
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He dies in an hour.

I don't actually live that far off from the prison; to know that someone's life is going to be taken from him fills me with emotions I cannot express.

Like foray says, I only hope he and his family can find peace.
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Old 12-01-2005, 05:33 PM   #12
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Lets hope he was sent to a better place, as they said.

And peace to his family and loved ones.
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Old 12-01-2005, 11:00 PM   #13
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Disgraceful...

To murder someone for drug trafficking is pathetic...

I am not 100% against capital punishment, but why kill the bloke, let alone barbarically hang him?

It's a bloody cop out. The executioner, some moron who claims that by murdering criminals like Van Nguyen it "refreshes" their soul" so that they can reincarnate into a "better person." What a load of rubbish!

A pathetic assumption based on myths...

The most disgraceful thing about the whole affair however, is that the crime was consierably petty.

A suitable punishment I believe, would be to spend up to half a year in prison, and be forced to undergo community service in the form of working with drug addicts and undergoing a rehabilitation program.

To kill the bloke doesn't solve anything. It just burdens his family and friends with the pain of living without someone they cared about. They are being punished more than Van Nguyen himself.

Illogical, completely illiogical, not to mention sadistic...
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Old 12-01-2005, 11:55 PM   #14
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That's it then. He was able to hold hands with his brother and mother.

.



intedomine: I don't know about Singapore but in Muslim countries around here (ie Malaysia, Indonesia), the anti-drug campaign is fraught with rhetoric about drugs equating evil. To take drugs is therefore an insult to God, and leads to death (of the soul, not just body) etc etc. That rhetoric will stay around for a long time yet. So, the idea of drug trafficking being a "petty crime" is subjective.

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Old 12-02-2005, 11:01 AM   #15
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Very sad story. What a waste of a young life.

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