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Australian to be hanged by Indian-origin Singaporean

An Indian origin Singaporean is preparing to hang an Australian condemned to death for smuggling drugs.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2005 13:13 IST

An Indian origin Singaporean is preparing to hang an Australian condemned to death for smuggling drugs - and protesting the imminent execution is a human rights lawyer, also of Indian origin.

Seventy-three-year-old Darshan Singh, Singapore's hangman, has a tough job on his hands. He has to weigh and measure the condemned prisoner, Nguyen Tuong Van, to calculate the length of the rope needed for the hanging due Friday at the Changi Prison.

Nguyen was convicted of trying to smuggle 400 grams of heroin from Cambodia to Melbourne in 2002. He was nabbed at the Singapore airport with the drug strapped to his body and in his hand luggage.

Joining the protest over Nguyen's death sentence is M. Ravi, an Indian origin human rights lawyer. Ravi had tried to save another drug courier in May. The effort failed and the Singaporean man's 14-year-old twin sons are now orphans.

Singapore has refused to compromise on the death sentence and described it as an internal matter, making Nguyen the first Australian to be executed for drug charges in Southeast Asia since 1993.

Ravi feels it is essential that the government start "complying with international norms as regards the issue of the mandatory death sentence". He has described the city-state's policy as a form of "genocide".

Subhas Anandan, a prominent Indian origin lawyer who has handled more than 50 death row cases, says the condemned are entitled to "what is reasonable". Singapore, which has the highest execution rate in the world relative to population, according to Amnesty International, has a compulsory death penalty for murder and drug trafficking convictions. Anyone possessing more than 15 grams of heroin is presumed to be trafficking and faces death if found guilty.

Australia is a staunch opponent of the death penalty. Appeals from Prime Minister John Howard, two previous prime ministers, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Pope John Paul II, his successor Pope Benedict XVI and a UN human rights expert on Nguyen's case were among the deluge turned down. Nguyen has maintained he was smuggling the heroin to pay off his brother's debts to loan sharks.

Every plea for reconsideration of the sentence has been rejected by Singapore. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said only a "miracle" can now save Nguyen, whose trafficking offence was the only legal blemish in his life.

His mother Kim Nguyen and twin brother Khoa, who arrived from Melbourne last week, are allowed only three-hour sessions twice a day starting Tuesday. Up to four people will be allowed at a time, and Nguyen will be granted a final meal of his choice. Among those talking with him will be a Roman Catholic priest. Nguyen converted to the religion while in prison.

On Friday he will be bathed, handcuffed and escorted to the gallows a short walk away. A hood will be placed over his head.

With his death, St. Ignatius Church in Melbourne will ring its bells 25 times to mark the years of Nguyen's life since his birth in a transit camp in Thailand after his mother fled Vietnam in 1980.

Nguyen's body will be turned over to his mother, but cremated if she fails to collect it by early afternoon.

First Published: Nov 28, 2005 12:55 IST