Australian likely to escape death for cannabis

Simon Hayes and Pia Akerman
The Australian
20 Jan 07,10117,21071250-2,00.html?from=public_rss

AN Adelaide man is likely to escape execution after being arrested in Singapore allegedly in possession of 495g of cannabis, just 5g under the death penalty limit.

Michael Karras, 38, was alleged to have had four slabs of a greenish matter in his flat when it was searched by officers of Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau late last week.

If found guilty, he faces between five and 20 years in jail and between five and 15 strokes of the cane. Under the city-state’s tough drug laws, trafficking 500g of cannabis would be punishable by death.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said Mr Karras and his family in Australia were being provided consular assistance.

Mr Karras’s mother, Irene, said she could not discuss the charges levelled against her son. “You need to respect my wishes as a mother,” she said from her Adelaide home.

“It’s a small community and I have to live here.”

Australian Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged in 2005 after his conviction for trafficking heroin, despite pleas for his life from John Howard and international human rights groups.

Nguyen was caught three years earlier at Changi Airport carrying nearly 400g of the drug while in transit from Cambodia to his home in Melbourne.

Singapore has regularly refused to buckle to international pressure on its legal system, not only turning down repeated requests for clemency in the Nguyen case, but also rejecting international appeals on other cases. The appropriateness of the death penalty is a taboo subject in Singapore, where executions receive little media attention.

In 1994, the island nation caned American teenager Michael Fay, accused of vandalising cars, while in 1997 it sentenced a New Zealander to jail and caning for overstaying his visa and taking drugs.

Probably the most controversial case was the 1994 execution of Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion, convicted of murder. Her death caused a diplomatic row between Singapore and The Philippines, but Singapore refused to budge.

Amnesty International says Singapore has the highest rate of executions per capita in the world, hanging eight people last year.

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