Sunday, November 27, 2005

"I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you."

Singapore executioner wants out

October 28, 2005 - 7:54AM

The man due to execute convicted Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van in Singapore is a 73-year-old grandfather who can't retire because no-one will take his job.

The Singaporean government looks set to take the 25-year-old Melbourne man to the gallows, after rejecting his appeal for clemency last Friday.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has made a last ditch attempt to save Nguyen's life, but says he has little hope the Australian will be spared.

Singapore's chief executioner Darshan Singh, who has hanged more than 850 prisoners in his 46 years in the role, is due to place the rope around Nguyen's neck, The Australian newspaper reported.

He will say: "I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you."

The newspaper says Singh, who lives in a government-owned apartment, wants to leave his job but authorities cannot find a replacement.

Singh is not permitted by law to speak publicly about his job.

But a colleague told the newspaper: "He tried to train two would-be hangmen to replace him, a Malaysian and a Chinese, both in the prison service.

"But when it came to pulling the lever for the real thing, they both froze and could not do it.

"The Chinese guy, a prison officer, became so distraught he walked out immediately and resigned from the prison service altogether."

Nguyen was caught with 396 grams of heroin strapped to his body and in his hand luggage at Singapore's Changi airport in 2002.

He is expected to be hanged in the next four to six weeks.

© 2005 AAP

From Yahoo News:

Sun Nov 27, 3:00 AM ET

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore has sacked its long-serving hangman, less than a week before the scheduled execution of an Australian drug smuggler, after his identity and picture was exposed by media.

"They called me a few days ago and said I don't have to hang Nguyen and that I don't have to work anymore," Chief executioner Darshan Singh told Reuters on Sunday.

"I think they (the prison authorities) must be mad after seeing my pictures in the newspapers," Singh said.

Australia's Sunday Telegraph said a new executioner was expected to be flown into Singapore this week to carry out the December 2 hanging of 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, who was sentenced to death for carrying 400 grams (0.9 lb) of heroin while in transit at the island-nation's airport.

Singh, a 74-year-old ethnic Indian, was reported in the Australian media to have conducted more than 850 hangings in his 50-year career. The reports said Singh had wanted to retire, but the search for a replacement was unsuccessful.

Singapore's prison department could not be reached for comment.

Despite repeated pleas from Australia to reconsider clemency for the former salesman, Singapore has stood firm on its decision, saying that Nguyen was caught with enough heroin "for 26,000 doses" and that the government would not allow Singapore to be used as a transit for illicit drugs.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has warned Singapore to prepare for lingering resentment in Australia if it goes ahead with the execution of Nguyen, but Howard has rejected public calls in Australia for boycotts of Singaporean companies and trade sanctions with one of its closest Asian allies.

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.

"I did have quite a discussion with him and he was left in no doubt as to the intensity of feeling within Australia," Howard told reporters. "There will be lingering resentment on the part of many Australians regarding this issue.

"They (Singapore) are certainly carefully monitoring what is occurring, but I am equally of the view, as I have been now for some time, that the government of Singapore is not going to change its mind."

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.


s said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ascendantlive said...

I believe it was in 18th century England they started hanging thieves. They hung people for stealing food, horses, whatever they stole it was a death sentence. Thing is, the crime rate never went down, they had public executions in the middle of London. It didn't make any difference. Simply punishing the crime, regardless of how severe the penalty, doesn't help a whole lot when the underlying social reasons for the crime are ignored. As long as there is money in the drug trade, the trade will continue; regardless of how severe the penalty. Slaughtering people is not going to stop it.

Dave said...

Socially, exaggeration is often whimsical. But when a government dramatically inflates numbers to help justify a death sentence, the integrity of both the trial and its governing body becomes questionable. In this case, the government is Singapore, the trial was for Van Tuong Nguyen, and the bloated number is 26,000.

Press from around the world quotes Abdullah Tarmugi, the Speaker of Singapore Parliament, in writing about the potential consequences of Van's actions, "almost 400 grams of pure heroin, enough for more than 26,000 doses."

But how was 26,000 doses (or "hits") derived?

It turns out that what constitutes a hit of heroin is not an easy thing to count. There are dozens of factors to consider; contact your local Needle Exchange for a comprehensive list. However, after collecting statistics from over a dozen sources (including police reports, narcotics web sites, health information, and workers from needle exchanges), the number of hits from a gram of pure heroin averages out to little more than 14.

Van Tuong Nguyen trafficked 396.2 grams of heroin into Singapore. This is approximately 5,600 doses.

The numbers 5,600 and 26,000 are obviously incongruous, as are reports that 400 grams of heroin would "ruin 26,000 lives". In fact, 400 grams of heroin would not come close to ruining even 5,600 lives. Rather, the heroin would most likely supply people already abusing it. With a little more research, we can estimate how many lives would be adversely affected by 400 grams of heroin during one year:

As many as 67, and as few as 6.

Van Tuong Nguyen would not have sent 26,000 people to their deaths from 400 grams of heroin. Nor would the lives of 26,000 people have been ruined. Far more likely is that six people would get a year's worth of hits. And for this he was executed?

Call it dreadful, call it dense, call it incomprehensible ... but do not call it justice.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

Great post, Dave! I had no idea about the exaggeration of what the Aussie drug smuggler brought into the country. For me, of all the executions in the world to protest, protesting against the hanging of a drug smuggler is not time well spent.

From Yahoo! News:

The hanging follows weeks of campaigning by his family and civil rights groups to stop the execution.

Where was the man's family when he went in to the drugs trade for a living?

"I hope the strongest message that comes out of this ... is to the young of Australia. Don't have anything to do with drugs, don't use them, don't touch them, don't carry them, don't traffic in them," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said.

This is precisely the message the Singaporean government was sending all along, before and after this drug smuggler.

I've never been within 10,000 miles of Singapore, and yet I am aware of their insanely harsh penalties for even the smallest infractions. Never in my life would I consider smuggling drugs into any country, least of all Singapore.

More imporantly, with all of the writers and artists imprisoned around the world, where is the outcry and tolling bells for them?

Ascendantlive said...

Matt you're correct that this smuggler certainly did something very stupid. I'm sure he was not a 'nice guy', as they probably don't last long in the international heroin trade. But killing him, even if he knew the penalty beforehand, is far too extreme. I think that the death penality is far more vengeance than justice.
As for the writers and artists their are people trying to get them freed. It's just not considered news worthy.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

A few years ago I worked in a hotel while living in Ireland. When checking in guests from North America, among the many questions they would ask, they always got around to "When do the pubs close?" To their disappointment I would inform them, "Eleven-thirty in the summer, and eleven o'clock at night in the winter." They would respond with, "Well, back where I come from the bars stay open until two o'clock in the morning." Which may well have been true. The thing was, they weren't at home. You abide by the law of the land, whatever land you might be in. I once got delayed in Mexico because I hadn't paid a departure tax. What was I going to say? "Hey, they don't charge me that in Florida!" No, I grudgingly paid the tax and got on my way.

These are all very poor analogies for capital punishment. No human being can say that another deserves to die. Sure, I hope Saddam Hussein is strung up by his balls, for instance. But this ill-fated drug smuggler in Singapore? He paid the piper, that's all. Singapore's not about to change their laws -- among them, $1,000 fine for not flushing a urinal -- and I think pleas for them to change their laws are inappropriate for other countries to make. You fuck around in Singapore, there is a hell of a hefty price to pay. With the way I live and carry on, I would be arrested and caned within an hour of landing in Singapore, so I plan to stay well away.

Don't forget, North Americans come from what Playboy magazine once called "the blameless culture." No one's to blame for anything in North America. We all have excuses, all have lawyers, all have gripes, all have potential lawsuits. What we don't have is people taking responsibility for themselves in any great number.

I'm not saying this drug smuggler deserved to die, but for him I will weep not.

Ascendantlive said...

When in Rome...I too will not cry over this smuggler. He was stupid, and will pay for it. I also didn't get too upset when quite a few years ago some Americans(two guys old enough to know better) decided to try to spread graffiti in Singapore. They were arrested and caned. A lot of people were outraged at Singapore's punishment, I thought it was pretty appropiate. Americans were extemely upset over Singapore's audacity to actually enforce the law against a foreigner, especially an American. I mean, these guys were in their 20s...and they spray painted cars and buildings. It wasn't like they just acidentally stumbled past a 'keep off the grass' sign or were punished for chewing bubble gum(which is illegal in Singapore). As for me, I have no problem with Singapore passing their laws, and enforcing them. I disagree with the death sentance because I disagree with capital punishment in general, regardless of the country that carries it out, or the reason used to justify it.
On a side note, my father visited Singapore once, the capital city. He said it was the cleanest city he had ever been to(he also threw away a pack of gum as soon as he got off the plane, after being informed that it was contraband).