Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

Anniversary Brings Time to Reflect

Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

Anniversary Brings Time to Reflect

Article excerpt

FOUR years ago today, a 24-year-old Vietnamese-born Australian who tried to carry a prohibited drug through Singapore's Changi International Airport was executed.

On March 20, 2004, Nguyen Tuong Van was convicted of importing 396.2 grams of heroin. He received the mandatory death sentence.

Technically it's probably true that his actions amounted to importing heroin. He arrived on a flight from Phnom Penh at 3.06pm on December 12, 2002 and was in transit at Changi Airport until attempting to board a flight to Melbourne at 8.15pm.

He was intercepted and found to be in possession of heroin. Whether this transit stop constitutes "importing" is obviously a legal interpretation I'm not competent to question.

My facts are from the transcript of the judgment against Nguyen in Singapore's Court of Appeal. His appeal against conviction and sentencing was dismissed on October 29, 2004.

The full judgment is at (


It's difficult reading, concentrating upon the meaning of mandatory sentencing and the Singapore Constitution.

The judgment inevitably takes no account of mitigating circumstances.

For over a year, determined attempts by lawyers and concerned individuals failed to achieve clemency for Nguyen.

Attempts by Prime Minister John Howard to persuade the Singapore Government to overturn the decision were unsuccessful. Nguyen was executed on December 2, 2005.

I am acutely aware that many people will disagree with what I now say.

I believe Nguyen's execution was heartless, inhuman and absolutely wrong. Furthermore, it has no measurable effect on the availability of hard drugs in Singapore or anywhere else.

I am opposed to capital punishment under any circumstances but my objection to Nguyen's treatment is not fundamentally for that reason.

My objection is based on mandatory sentencing. I would still object had Nguyen been given a lesser penalty if that penalty was mandatory, without the possibility of the judge being able to exercise discretion. …

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