November 22, 2005

Europe MPs urge Singapore to spare Australian’s life

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - European parliamentarians criticized
Singapore's mandatory death penalty on Tuesday and urged the
government to stop next week's scheduled execution of a
25-year-old Australian drug smuggler.

Nguyen Tuong Van, convicted by Singapore of trying to
smuggle 400 grams (0.9 lb) of heroin from Cambodia, is to be
hanged on December 2 despite repeated pleas from Australia to
reconsider clemency for the former salesman.

"The death penalty is firmly rejected in the European
Parliament, but it is applied here. Clearly, we have different
positions," Hartmut Nassauer, chairman of the delegation for
relations with Southeast Asia, told reporters at a briefing in

"We believe in universal democracy, rights and human law."

Singapore, which has the highest execution rate in the
world relative to population according to a 2004 report by
Amnesty International, has a compulsory death penalty for
murder and drug trafficking.

Nguyen's mother and twin brother arrived at Singapore's
Changi airport late on Monday and were quickly whisked away by
officials from the Australian embassy.

Frithjof Schmidt, a member of the European Green Party,
urged Canberra to take the case to an international court, a
day after lawyers for Nguyen asked the Australian government to
have the United Nations International Court of Justice hear the

"There should be a debate in an international court, given
the gravity of the punishment for someone just transporting
drugs," Schmidt told Reuters.

Schmidt urged the Singapore government to grant Nguyen

"I would like to appeal to the government not to execute
him and to go back to a trial that is in line with
international standards," he said. The delegates met Nguyen's
Singapore-based lawyer during their visit, he said.

Last week, a senior United Nations official, Philip Alston,
criticized Singapore's decision to execute Nguyen, saying that
it was violating international norms on use of the death

But Singapore said Alston was trying to "mislead the
public" and maintained that there is no international consensus
that capital punishment should be abolished.

The city-state added that it had the sovereign right to
impose the death penalty as part of its criminal justice

Australia, which opposes capital punishment, says that
Nguyen was carrying the drugs to help his brother pay off debts
to loan sharks. It asked for clemency on the grounds that he
had cooperated with authorities and could be a witness in
future drug cases.