Singapore’s highest court today rejected an Australian man’s final appeal to stave off execution for drug trafficking.
Upon hearing the Court of Appeal’s verdict, Nguyen Tuong Van, in handcuffs and wearing a pale orange jump-suit, slumped back in his chair.
His mother, Kim Nguyen, wept silently in the public gallery as the three-judge panel made a quick exit after the minute-long reading of the verdict.
Nguyen’s only option now is to plead for clemency from Singapore president SR Nathan, which his lawyers and Australian High Commissioner to Singapore Gary Quinlan said he would do.
Nguyen, 24, a salesman from Melbourne, was arrested on December 12, 2002, at Changi International Airport in transit between Cambodia and Melbourne, Australia. Nguyen was carrying two packets of heroin totalling 13.87 ounces.
The tightly controlled city-state has one of the world’s toughest – and most thoroughly enforced – drug laws. Anyone possessing more than 0.53 ounces of heroin or more than 17.64 ounces of marijuana is presumed to be trafficking and faces death if found guilty.
His lawyers appealed against the conviction and the death sentence, arguing it was unconstitutional and said several police blunders had compromised the state’s case.
“We believe there are very compassionate and strong humanitarian grounds for clemency in the case,” said Quinlan.
“One of the mitigating factors is the strong relationship between Singapore and Australia,” he added, but declined to say whether he felt the relationship between the two countries would be affected over the case.
His mother said she visited him in prison and they had been “with hope”. Nguyen himself had been praying every day, she said.
Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and his family, who are Vietnamese, emigrated to Australia shortly after his birth.
As he entered the dock, he looked up and smiled to his mother, who blew him a kiss and clasped her hands together in prayer.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International said earlier this year Singapore had the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population and that its executions, numbering more than 400 since 1991, were “shrouded in secrecy”.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry said authorities had hanged nearly 150 people in the past five years, most of them for drug offences, saying tough laws had saved the drug menace from spreading.