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Australia PM supports clemency bid in Singapore
CANBERRA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard will support a bid for clemency by an Australian man sentenced to death by hanging in Singapore for smuggling heroin through the city- state's Changi airport.

Nguyen Tuong Van, arrested at Changi airport in December 2002 while travelling from Cambodia to Melbourne, on Wednesday lost an appeal against a conviction for smuggling 400 grammes (14 ounces) of heroin and now relies on being granted clemency.

"I will certainly support approaches to the Singaporean president for clemency and that process is already, I understand, under way," Howard told Australian radio on Friday.

If the bid for clemency fails, Van will be the first Australian citizen executed in Singapore.

In 1994, Singapore caused a diplomatic furore when it turned down Dutch government pleas for clemency and hanged 59-year-old Dutch national Johannes Van Damme for trafficking about 4.5 kg (9.9 lb) of heroin.

Singapore's drug laws are among the world's harshest. Anyone aged 18 or over and convicted of carrying more than 15 grammes (0.5 ounce) of heroin faces mandatory execution by hanging.

The Singapore government recently revealed for the first time that six people had been hanged between January and September and 19 for the whole of 2003. According to Amnesty International, the country of 4.2 million people has hanged about 400 since 1991.

Van, a former salesman, told police after his arrest he had carried the drugs on behalf of a Sydney- based drugs syndicate in a bid to pay off legal fees owed by his twin brother.

Police found a package of heroin taped to his back during a pre-flight security check and another in his hand luggage.

Singapore staunchly defends its use of the death penalty and insists foreigners are not exempt from its execution laws.

Amnesty, Australia ask Singapore to spare life of drug smuggler

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Human rights group Amnesty International and the Australian government have urged Singapore to spare the life of an Australian man sentenced to hang for heroin trafficking.

Amnesty, a strong critic of the death penalty system in Singapore, urged the city state -- said to have the world's highest number of executions relative to its population -- to grant clemency to Nguyen Tuong Van.

Singapore's highest court on Wednesday rejected Nguyen's appeal to set aside his conviction and sentence. Only a rare clemency from Singapore's President S. R. Nathan could spare him from the gallows, the only form of execution here.

The 24-year-old ethnic Vietnamese from Melbourne will be the first Australian citizen to be executed in Singapore if he fails to get his sentence commuted to a prison term.

"Clearly Amnesty International is dismayed that the appeal has been turned down," Tim Goodwin, spokesman for Amnesty International Australia, told AFP by telephone. "We are calling on the Singapore government to grant clemency."

In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Thursday the government would appeal directly to Singapore's president to spare Nguyen's life.

Downer said while he accepted the court's decision that Nguyen was guilty, Australia opposed capital punishment.

"It's now just a question of the sentence, and we hope that, by appealing to the president of Singapore, that it will be possible to get clemency granted and, as a result, Mr Nguyen serve an appropriate custodial sentence in Singapore," Downer said in a radio interview.

"We think that to execute him would be simply too severe," Downer said.

Downer acknowledged that the request for presidential clemency was a long shot, as Singapore has granted only six appeals in the past 25 years.

"It is an outside chance ... but we'll just do what we can," he said.

Amnesty in a report last January singled out Singapore for executing more people than any country per capita and renewed calls for it to abolish the death penalty.

It said more than 400 convicts, many of them foreign migrant workers, were executed in Singapore, which has just over four million people, from 1991 to October 2003.

Nguyen was arrested at Singapore's Changi airport while in transit from Cambodia to Australia in December 2002 and convicted for smuggling almost 400 grams (14 ounces) of heroin.

Singapore made the death penalty mandatory for drug traffickers and murderers in 1975. Anyone caught with more than 15 grams of heroin in Singapore is assumed to be importing or trafficking the drug.

In its ruling Wednesday rejecting Nguyen's appeal to set aside his conviction, Singapore's Court of Appeal said the death penalty was constitutional and hanging did not amount to cruel and inhuman punishment.

"It was clear that he wanted to earn money by transporting drugs," the ruling said. "He flew to Phnom Penh, where members of a drug syndicate provided him with the heroin for transportation via Singapore." "The Victorian Government is vehemently opposed to the death penalty and we'll do all we can to work with the Federal Government in any efforts to save the life of Mr Nguyen."

Long wait for condemned trafficker
By Alex Wilson - October 21, 2004

AN Australian sentenced to death in Singapore could have a six-month wait to hear if his last ditch plea for clemency would be granted, his lawyer said today.

The chances of Nguyen Tuong Van avoiding a date with the city state's hangman appear slim as the Singapore Government has granted only six clemencies in 30 years.

Nguyen, 24, of Mulgrave in Melbourne's south-east yesterday, lost an appeal against his conviction and mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking.

His lawyer Lex Lasry QC said an appeal for clemency would now be made directly to Singapore's President, SR Nathan, but an answer could take some time.

"We've got three months and they'll probably take three months to think about it," he said.

Mr Lasry said he had spoken with Nguyen this morning and he was still reeling from the decision.

His distraught mother, who attended court yesterday, was visiting her son in prison today, Mr Lasry said.

Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and spent two years there before coming to Australia.

The president of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, Hung Chau, said Melbourne's Vietnamese community had been shaken but not surprised by the decision.

"When we heard that this had happened we knew the Singaporean Government was very tough on this,"

"We wrote a letter to the Singaporean Government but we didn't have any hope."

Buddhist monks would visit Nguyen's mother to comfort her when she returned to Australia, he said.

Amnesty International spokesman Tim Goodwin said only six clemencies had been granted since the death penalty was introduced in Singapore more than 30 years ago.

Mr Goodwin said he was encouraged by the support for the clemency application from state and federal governments in Australia.

"But then at the same time we have to be very realistic that there is a very low success rate for clemencies," he said.

A UN report this year found that Singapore executed more people a head than any other country in the world.

Between 1994 and 1999 they executed 13.5 people a million head of population a year, three times more than the next country Saudi Arabia which executed 4.6 a million a year.

Since 1991 four hundred people have been executed in Singapore, more than half of them foreigners.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will appeal to President Nathan to spare the life of Nguyen

Mr Downer said while he accepted the court's decision that Nguyen was guilty, he hoped his life could be spared.

"It's now just a question of the sentence, and we hope that, by appealing to the President of Singapore, that it will be possible to get clemency granted and, as a result, Mr Nguyen serve an appropriate custodial sentence in Singapore," Mr Downer told Melbourne radio 3AW.

Mr Downer said while he accepted the court's decision that Nguyen was guilty, he hoped his life could be spared.

"It's now just a question of the sentence, and we hope that, by appealing to the President of Singapore, that it will be possible to get clemency granted and, as a result, Mr Nguyen serve an appropriate custodial sentence in Singapore," Mr Downer told Melbourne radio 3AW.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls today backed Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's support for Nguyen's plea for clemency.

"The Victorian Government is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances," he said.

"Capital punishment is a cruel, oppressive and disproportionate penalty."

Mr Lasry would not speculate on Nguyen's prospects of winning clemency but said he had been heartened by the support from the federal government.

"They are expressing their own view and making representations and they have said they will support the clemency application so you can't really expect more than that," he said.

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