Source: Guardian
Date: 1 December 2005

Singapore Hangs Australian Drug Smuggler

Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE (AP) - Singapore executed a 25-year-old Australian on Friday for drug trafficking, despite numerous appeals from the Australian government and hours after the condemned man had a ``beautiful last visit'' with his family.

Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged before dawn as a dozen friends and supporters, dressed in black, kept an overnight vigil outside the maximum-security prison. His twin brother, Nguyen Khoa, was dressed in white.

Vigils were also held in cities around Australia, with bells and gongs sounding 25 times at the hour of his execution.

``The sentence was carried out this morning at Changi Prison,'' the Home Affairs Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Nguyen received a mandatory death sentence after he was caught in 2002 at Singapore's airport on his way home to Melbourne carrying about 14 ounces of heroin.

Singapore has executed more than 100 people for drug-related offenses since 1999, saying its tough laws and penalties are an effective deterrent against a crime that ruins lives. By contrast, Australia scrapped the death penalty in 1973 and hanged its last criminal in 1967.

While Australian leaders lashed out at the death sentence as ``barbaric'' and pleaded for clemency for Nguyen, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had ruled out a reprieve.

``We have stated our position clearly,'' Lee told reporters in Berlin on Thursday after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. ``The penalty is death.''

Nguyen visited with his mother, Kim, twin brother, Nguyen Khoa, a friend and his lawyers Thursday afternoon.

Julian McMahon, one of his Australian lawyers, said Nguyen was ``completely rehabilitated, completely reformed, completely focused on doing what is good and now they are going to kill him.''

Another lawyer, Lex Lasry, said the family had a ``beautiful last visit.''

``It was a great visit and quite uplifting,'' he said, brushing away tears.

McMahon said Nguyen's mother had been allowed to hold her son's hand and touch his face in her last visit.

``That was a great comfort to her,'' McMahon said.

Lasry has criticized Singapore's mandatory death penalty for some drugs cases and attacked the clemency appeal process as lacking transparency.

But Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry said in an e-mail statement that every petition for clemency is carefully considered by the president, ``taking into account all relevant factors.''

``The president has in the past commuted the death penalty,'' the statement said.

According to local media, Singapore has granted clemency to six inmates on death row - all Singaporeans - since independence in 1965.

Earlier Thursday, Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock called the planned execution ``a most unfortunate, barbaric act that is occurring.''

Asked about the comment in Berlin, Lee would only say that ``the Australian press is colorful.'' Lee emphasized that all factors, including Australian letters for clemency, had been ``taken into account'' but said ``the law will have to take its course.''

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