Activists get ready to protest execution

Jake Lloyd-Smith
31 Oct 05

Activists in tightly controlled Singapore plan to stage a rare public protest against the impending execution of convicted Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van.

Next week’s indoor vigil would be an unusual show of opposition to capital punishment in Singapore.

Details have yet to be finalised.

“Individuals of the civil society who are concerned citizens against the death penalty are … coming together to organise it,” Think Centre campaigner Sinapan Samydorai said on Monday.

Think Centre is among Singapore’s handful of active campaign groups and has long opposed the death penalty.

It would help to support any Nguyen-related event, Sinapan said, and planned to post details on its website.

Melbourne salesman Nguyen, 25, was arrested at Changi International Airport in December 2002 as he was about to board a flight to Australia.

He had 396 grams of heroin taped to his back, and in his luggage.

Singapore has so far rejected pleas for clemency from Australia.

Nguyen is likely to be hanged sometime in November, possibly as soon as November 11.

Sinapan said the vigil would likely be small scale, and he conceded that as most Singaporeans support the death penalty the campaigners faced a tough task.

Earlier this year, a similar vigil was held to protest the execution of Singaporean Shanmugam Murugesu, who was hanged in May for trafficking 1.03kg of marijuana.

The Singapore government last year eased restrictions on some types of indoor gatherings, dropping the need for participants to obtain prior approval from the police.

Outdoor demonstrations, though, remain extremely rare.

Gatherings of more than four people require permission from authorities.

Plain-clothed officers attended the May vigil and at one stage prevented an open microphone session, where members of the audience had been invited on stage to express their feelings.

The Singapore government argues that the selective use of the death penalty helps to deter serious crime and has kept the country of 4 million people safe.

“We weigh the right to life of the convicted against the rights of victims and the right of the community to live in peace and security,” the Ministry of Home Affairs has said.

Human rights group Amnesty International has suggested that Singapore may have the highest rate of executions worldwide relative to its size.

According to official figures, 340 people were hanged in Singapore between 1991 and 2000.

In some years, such as 1996, when 50 people were hanged, the state-sanctioned death rate averages close to one a week.

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