Singapore and Van Nguyen

The big news in Australia at the moment is the death sentence for Van Nguyen, an Australian citizen caught trafficing drugs through Singapore. The Singaporeans refuse to listen to Australian government pleas for clemency and Van is scheduled to be executed on December 2. Now I'm no fan of drug trafficing or drugs in general, but neither do I support the death penalty. My greatest opposition to death penalties in general is because sometimes innocent people are sentenced to death. That is too much like murder for my liking. My understanding is that Van Nguyen is not innocent. I would usually agree that when you are visiting a foreign country that you should respect their laws and understand that their punishments may be harsher than would be acceptable in their home country. However, there are some punishments which are just blatantly wrong - stoning an adulterer to death is one example (thankfully that example is not from Singapore). The fact that the death sentence is mandatory in Singapore for many crimes is even worse. If Van Nguyen was unequivocally responsible for the murder, or attempted murder, or for such cruel crimes as torture and rape, then a sentence of death would be understandable. However, Nguyen was not responsible for the involuntary killing of innocent people. It is true that the drugs may have lead to death of a user - but that user has almost certainly decided to take the drugs. It may also be that the trade of the drugs would have lead to a crime where someone dies. While Nguyen would have been a component in the chain that would lead to the person's death, he would not be directly responsible. I have heard Singaporeans comment that if they didn't stop people like Nguyen then their country would be overwhelmed by drugs. Nguyen wasn't trying to import drugs into Singapore, it was merely a transit point. He didn't even leave their airport. It's Australians that would have suffered the consequences of the drug importation, not Singapore. Singapore is a major transit point for travellers flying onwards to other countries. On many routes there is little choice but to go through Singapore. I feel that it is wrong to apply the law as harshly on transit passengers as those who enter the country to perform crimes. Nguyen supposedly wasn't even doing it for personal gain, but to help his drug addict identical twin brother escape from some very serious debts. I wonder, though I don't know, if the non-payment of those debts would lead to violence upon his family. Asians say they place great importance on helping out their own families - Singaporeans should understand this. I agree that Nguyen should suffer a heavy penalty for his actions, but he does seem like someone who could be rehabilitated and provide a positive impact on society. By killing him Singapore is probably not preventing future crimes (just look at those dumb Australians who got caught in Bali after Schapelle Corby). I doubt if any protestation will make a difference to Nguyen's execution. My experience with Singaporeans is that they are quite happy to lecture others on their inadequacies, but quite unwilling to consider that they themselves might be wrong.


After what manifested as

jk (27-11-2005 08:59)

After what manifested as lies on the part of the obviously guilty Michelle Leslie, I think the Singapore gov't may have taken note and even decided not to spare Van.

"Singapore is a major transit point for travellers flying onwards to other countries. On many routes there is little choice but to go through Singapore. I feel that it is wrong to apply the law as harshly on transit passengers as those who enter the country to perform crimes."

So do you also feel the Singapore authorities should not arrest suspected terrorists with bags of ammo in transit to Australia? I know it's a somewhat different analogy but in the eyes of the law, it's still illegal, innit?

Re: After what manifested as

(30-11-2005 05:09)

I am convinced that models live in a different universe to the rest of us. I read some comments of her "friend who gave her the drugs (but didn't)" - a Singaporean model who was referred to as Mia, though its not her real name. Just as daft as Michelle.

My argument is not that transiting criminals should not be arrested. Indeed, I agree that Nguyen should be jailed. Give him a long term as a deterrent. And if he's a good prisoner parole him early... quietly. That's not an option if he is killed.

However, I think some consideration should be given to the views of the country that is the target of their crime. Let's say a terrorist is arrested in Singapore enroute to blow up a target in Australia. Australia argues the death penalty is wrong, he was only following instructions from his President. He is imprisoned for 10 years, let out, and makes his way (via Thailand this time) to Australia and detonates a bomb in Wagga Wagga.

Australia argued to let him free, Australia suffers the consequences. Likewise, if Van Nguyen was released and trafficed drugs again, it would be Australians who would suffer. It's pretty obvious that threats of death penalties don't really deter drug mules, whatever the Singaporean High Commissioner says. Just look at the so called Bali Nine.

Of course, if he was a suicide bomber, execution wouldn't be a deterrent anyway.

It's the inflexibility of the Singaporean judicial system that I think is wrong. When sentencing a criminal, motivation and chances for rehabilitation are more important than deterrence and the need to save face should have nothing to do with it.

I would certainly think twice now about going through Singapore now, for fear of inadvertantly committing a crime, or being framed for one (go baggage handlers!). It's a pity, because I rather enjoyed my last trip there in October.