02 December, 2005

a man dies, the tragedy continues

This morning, a 25 year-old Australian man was dropped from a platform with a noose around his throat. For his sake, one would hope that his neck was broken on impact. But it is possible he remained alive for up to ten minutes. These are details we will probably never know. All we know for sure is that Nguyen Tuong Van - who was the same age as me, and went to school with his twin brother just blocks from where I live - was hanged by the neck until he was dead, at 9am Melbourne-time today.

Nguyen Tuong Van

This man was a convicted heroin trafficer. Employed as a "drug-mule", he was arrested in Singapore with 400g of the drug strapped to his body. Apparently he was commiting this criminal act to save his twin brother Khoa, who was deeply in debt. In Singapore, heroin trafficking carries a mandatory sentence of death.

The questions raised by this whole story are too numerous and complex for me to adequately address. I am not going to condone or excuse the trafficking of a highly addictive and deadly drug, which causes misery and death to thousands the world over. But I cannot accept the words of Singapore's Prime Minister this week, when he defended his Government's bloodthirsty mandatory-execution laws. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong claimed his country was attacking the drug problem at its source. A desperate fool who tapes drugs to his body and gets on a plane, is not the source of the drug problem.

The Nguyen Twins as children

I am also not going to get involved with the "who could have done what?" arguments. Doubtless there is much scope for examining the Governments of both Singapore and Australia in this situation. How can it be that a Government like Singapore's - which operates virtually as a draconian police-state dictatorship - is allowed to wallow in its shiny, prosperpous hypocrisy, while the rest of the world stands by? The details of whatever political wranglings went on, in trying - and failing - to prevent Nguyen's death, are largely irrelevant. It seems that the sad underlying fact is that global economic alliances (and reliances) carry more weight in this world than human rights.

What Nguyen did was wrong. Desperately, reprehensibly wrong. But this seems to be a case where the punishment is horrendously disproportionate to the crime. Personally, even in the most extreme cases, I do not feel that any court of justice has the right to end a human life. This case just illustrates the madness, futility and sheer waste of Capital Punishment.

Nguyen Tuong Van is dead. His mother, brother and friends are probably still at Changi prison as I type, mourning the folly of their son, brother and friend. Meanwhile today, countless individuals will make the personal choice to buy heroin and put it into their bodies. Some of those people's lives will be destroyed. Some of those people will overdose and die. This is an undeniable tragedy which cannot be ignored. But do we really believe that the situation will improve, simply because Nguyen Tuong Van's body lies lifeless in a prison morgue?




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