Van Tuong Nguyen

Next Friday, Singapore plans to hang Van Tuong Nguyen, a 25 year old man from Glen Waverley, the Melbourne suburb where I grew up. Nguyen’s crime against the state of Singapore was to change planes in Singapore while en route from Cambodia to Australia carrying 396 grams of heroin. I can see, dimly, how doing this kind of thing could be a crime against Cambodia, and a crime against Australia, but I can’t see how this kind of action could justifiably be punished by Singapore, when he hadn’t even passed through passport control into Singapore and clearly had no intention of doing so.

And of course even if we do think Singapore is justified in punishing Nguyen for his crimes, the idea that hanging is the appropriate punishment for attempting to sell heroin would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. Either Singapore should hang people for putting together plans to commit murder, or they are implying that drug trading is worse than murder. Either option is nonsensical.

Anyway, at this stage the important thing isn’t to debate just how absurd Singapore’s position is, but to do something. Amnesty International Australia has a number of links for writing to the salient Singaporese ministers to beg for them to change their minds. The very least one could expect our government to be doing is not doing more favours for the Singapore government while they plan to murder an Australian, but that seems too much for John Howard, even when proposed by one of his own MPs.

8 Replies to “Van Tuong Nguyen”

  1. Needless to say this is awful. How does this manage to play on the border of acceptable behavior? The link to Amnesty International Australia makes it very easy to copy/paste (w/ modest changes) a request with urgency.

  2. I have read many arguments regarding the death penalty that Van is now facing. Look I do agree that this sentence is harsh but we all know the laws these countries set and we should abide by them. We are reminded all the time “Don’t bring drugs into our Country”. Ok he might have been in transit but what IF these drugs did reach our streets, it might be your son or daughter that might overdose on it god forbid, how would you feel then? angry I suspect at whoever supplied it to them. I am a mother myself and I know I would want to make these people pay if one of my kids died because of drugs;and my heart goes out to Van and his family, lets hope this is a big lesson to people in the future, but will it? Remember Leah Betts in the UK who died on her 18th birthday after taking one ectasy tablet? I do, there were pictures of her on life support on billboards all over the UK to remind people of the dangers of drugs. I am truly sorry for Van and I do hope he will get his reprieve at the last minute.

  3. Apartheid-era National Party governments in South Africa were fond of detaining people in transit through a South African airport, even whem the person was not entering, and had no intention of entering, South African territory. I think that international law was on the government’s side — ie, airports, even on the so-called airside of Immigration Control, are still part of the country concerned. So, I doubt Singapore was doing anything which would be considered illegal, however repugnant we find it, when it arrested Mr Nguyen.

  4. I agree that what Singapore is doing isn’t illegal in international law. The transit area is part of their territory after all, and if they want to criminalise any activity they want in there they can. I just wanted to make a point about legitimacy. There’s no way that someone carrying heroin through there, taking out as much as they took in, harms the state of Singapore, its citizens or inhabitants, in any way. And criminalising activity that doesn’t harm the state its citizens or inhabitants seems illegitimate, at least to me.

  5. Perhaps they see it as a potential harm, and perhaps that legitimizes it: i.e. it might be true that their authority is reasonably regarded as that extensive, and not merely de facto so. But that aside, the better point is the retributive one. The punishment is by any measure (I think) excessive.

  6. There is a lot of talk about respecting another country’s law and culture. What about South Africa and apartheid? Wasn’t international pressure one of the main factors behind it’s abolishment? Another thing I would like to state is that the death sentence is mandatory and the judge has no say what the punishment should be. Many legal experts have said this is appalling as the rule of law doesn’t apply here. It is very sad and I hope something can be done about banning capital punishment, not just in Singapore but in the world. I would also like to add that I acknowledge that Van was guilty of drug trafficking. However, I believe that killing someone never solves anything.

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