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Cablegate: Singapore to Execute Australian Drug Trafficker

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SINGAPORE 003416

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM AS SN
SUBJECT: SINGAPORE TO EXECUTE AUSTRALIAN DRUG TRAFFICKER

REF: SINGAPORE 367

1. (SBU) Summary: On Friday, December 2, Singapore will
execute Australian citizen Nguyen Tuong Van for heroin
smuggling. Local media have covered the many different pleas
for clemency from Australia as well as criticism of
Singapore's tough punishments. At the same time, the media
have relayed the GOS's rationale for mandatory imposition of
the death penalty in certain drug trafficking cases and the
need to avoid a "double standard" for foreigners. The GOA's
low-key approach for clemency has failed, but a more strident
approach toward the GOS would have both failed and soured
relations. End Summary.

Sentence Is Death
-----------------

2. (U) Singapore arrested Australian Nguyen Tuong Van in
December 2002 at Changi Airport on his way to Melbourne from
Cambodia. He had approximately 396 grams of heroin in his
possession, reportedly enough for 26,000 street doses. He
was convicted on March 20, 2004, and given the death
sentence, mandatory for trafficking heroin over 15 grams.
Nguyen has not contested his guilt or the facts of the case.

GOA's Low-Key Approach
----------------------

3. (SBU) The GOA has appealed quietly and behind closed doors
for clemency. The Australian High Commission Political
Counselor told us the GOA approach emphasized that, while
Australia did not take issue with Singapore's use of the
death penalty, compelling facts called for mitigation in the
Nguyen case. The GOA raised the issue when Nguyen was first
arrested in December 2002 by trying--unsuccessfully--to get
the charge reduced. Prime Minister Howard also raised the
Nguyen case when he visited Singapore in January 2005
(Reftel). The GOA most recently helped facilitate a contact
meeting between Nguyen and his mother, who had requested that
the GOS allow her to hug her son before his execution. The
GOS agreed to allow them to hold hands. The Pol Counselor
stated that, while both the GOA and the GOS have been careful
not to let the Nguyen case affect bilateral relations, there
is a personal dimension to the case that most Australians
feel, and Australian media coverage reflects this.

GOS Won't Budge
---------------

4. (SBU) Prime Minister Lee has praised Prime Minister Howard
for avoiding "megaphone diplomacy" and for raising the issue
in "an effective but non-confrontational way." The
government-linked Straits Times has carried many articles and
letters from Singaporeans and Australians arguing both sides
of the issue. The GOA's pleas for clemency, however, have
fallen on deaf ears. President Nathan noted to the Charge
that a foreign government's request for clemency when
delivered via the media leaves the GOS no option but to stand
firm.

5. (U) PM Lee has argued Singapore must take a firm stand
against drug trafficking--using the death penalty--to protect
its citizens from drug abuse and ensure that Singapore does
not become a transit center. He noted that the law is
applied equally, both to Singaporeans and to foreigners.
(Note: On May 13, Singaporean Shanmugam Murugesu was executed
for importing one kilogram of cannabis. End Note.)

Singapore Public Opinion
------------------------

6. (U) Singapore public opposition to the death penalty
appears to be limited. On November 7, a local NGO, the Think
Centre, organized a forum and vigil for Nguyen, which
approximately 100 people attended. Opposition figure Dr.
Chee Soon Juan spoke at the vigil and argued for abolition of
the death penalty. The Think Centre has also campaigned for
a moratorium on the death penalty in drug cases.

7. (SBU) Comment: The GOS is proud of its tough
law-and-order reputation, and no amount of public outcry in
Australia would have changed its position in this case. While
execution of a foreigner is rare, the GOS doesn't want to
create the impression of a double standard. Public debate of
the appropriateness of the death penalty for drug cases will
continue in the usual muted fashion. End Comment.
HERBOLD

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