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Battle to stop a hanging
Norrie Ross - law reporter - 24jul04

A YOUNG Melbourne man due to hang in Singapore for drug crimes will get one of his last chances to save his life today.

Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, will appeal against his conviction and sentence in Singapore's Court of Appeal on Monday, in a hearing that is not expected to last even the day.

Nguyen, a former salesman, has been on death row for five months since he was convicted of importing nearly 400 grams of heroin in December 2002.

He was arrested at Changi International Airport while boarding a Qantas flight to Australia with the drugs strapped to his back and in his backpack.

He was in transit from Cambodia, and his trial heard he told police he carried the drugs to repay $30,000 in debts accumulated by his twin brother.

One of his Melbourne lawyers, barrister Julian McMahon, said yesterday the legal team had one aim. "Our objective all along has been to save his life, and that remains our objective," he said.

Mr McMahon said Nguyen was bearing up as well as could be expected in the circumstances, though his family was very distressed.

There is a mandatory death penalty in Singapore for anyone aged over 18 convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin.

If Nguyen's appeal fails, his last chance of avoiding the gallows would be to try to win a plea for clemency to Singapore's president.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has already told Singapore that Australia does not want Nguyen to be hanged, but most clemency appeals fail.

Nguyen's other Melbourne lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, said the appeal would focus on deficiencies in the evidence against his client and a challenge to the constitutional basis of the death penalty in Singapore.

Mr Lasry said Nguyen was a first offender and, because of his age, if he committed the same offence in Australia his sentence would typically be between five and 10 years in jail.

If Nguyen is hanged, he would be the fourth Australian to be executed in an Asian country on drug charges.

In the most notorious case, Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow were executed in Malaysia in 1986.

Queenslander Michael McAuliffe was hanged in Malaysia in June 1993 after serving eight years in jail.

Australian appeals Singapore death sentence
An appeal to save a Melbourne man from the gallows will be heard in Singapore's High Court today.

Nguyen Tuong Van has been on death row in Changi prison since March, when a court found him guilty of smuggling almost 400 grams of heroin into the country.

The 23-year-old was arrested in December 2002 trying to board a Qantas flight to Melbourne.

Security officers found the drugs taped to his back and inside a backpack.

Under Singapore's strict anti-drug laws, anyone found with more than 15 grams of heroin faces a mandatory death penalty.

Nguyen's Australian barrister, Lex Lasry QC, says the appeal will question the constitutionality of the death sentence and the integrity of evidence given during the original trial.

If the appeal is lost, a plea for clemency can be presented to Singapore's president.

However, legal and diplomatic observers say the Singaporean Government rarely shows mercy, even in cases involving foreigners.

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