Singapore executes 2 Africans on drug charges

The Associated Press
26 Jan 07

Anti-death penalty activists and sympathizers hold a somber vigil outside Changi prison compound in Singapore. They lit candles around photographs of Tochi, a convicted Nigerian drug trafficker who was hanged, placed against the prison compound's walls. (AFP/photo).Singapore executed two Africans on drug trafficking charges Friday despite pleas for clemency by Nigeria’s president, the United Nations and human rights groups.

Nigerian Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 21, was hanged at dawn in the city-state after being convicted of trafficking 727 grams (26 ounces) of heroin — nearly 50 times the 15 grams (0.53 ounces) of the drug that draws a mandatory death penalty in Singapore, the Central Narcotics Bureau said in a statement.

A stateless African named Okeke Nelson Malachy, 35, who was convicted as the person to whom Iwuchukwu was supposed to deliver the drugs, was also executed Friday, the statement said.

About a dozen activists held an overnight vigil outside maximum-security Changi Prison, where the execution was carried out. Just before the hanging, they stood or sat with their heads bowed, holding roses in the flickering glow of candles on the ground around photos of Iwuchukwu and a red-and-white soccer jersey said to belong to him.

Prominent Singapore-based art critic Lee Weng Choy, 43, said he disagreed with Singapore’s mandatory death sentence regulation, which he said takes away the discretionary power of the judiciary.

“I also disagree with its justification as a deterrent. The reality is that drug trafficking has not been reduced to zero, neither has drug use,” he said at the vigil.

The execution was carried out despite an appeal by Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who asked Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this week to commute the death sentence.

Lee replied Thursday that Iwuchukwu had committed a serious offense under Singapore law and had exhausted all legal options.

“We did not take the decision lightly,” Lee wrote in a letter. “I realize that Mr. Tochi’s family will find Singapore’s position difficult to accept, but we have a duty to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans, and protect the many lives that would otherwise be ruined by the drug syndicates.”

Singapore’s strict drug laws made international headlines — and triggered an outcry in Australia — in December 2005 when the city-state executed a 25-year-old Australian heroin trafficker despite numerous appeals from the Canberra government.

Singapore has said its tough penalties for drug trafficking are an effective deterrent against a crime that ruins lives, and that foreigners and Singaporeans must be treated alike.

Human rights group Amnesty International says Singapore has the world’s highest per capita execution rate. Last week it urged its members to push Singapore’s government to grant Iwuchukwu clemency and for a moratorium on all executions in the country.

The United Nations also urged Singapore on Thursday not to execute Iwuchukwu because it would violate international legal standards on the use of the death penalty.

“The standard accepted by the international community is that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts,” said a statement by Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Iwuchukwu, a footballer, was arrested in November 2004 at Singapore’s Changi Airport after arriving from Dubai with 100 capsules containing heroin that authorities estimated to be worth 1.5 million Singapore dollars (US$970,000; €795,930).

At the time of his arrest, Iwuchukwu told narcotics officers the pills were African herbs that he was supposed to give to a sick friend. He also told officers that he came to try out for soccer teams playing in the Singapore League.

Iwuchukwu’s family, who live in Nigeria, could not afford to travel to Singapore to see him while he was on death row, said Princewill Akpakpan, a lawyer with the Civil Liberties Organization, Nigeria’s largest human rights group.

“The execution will place Singapore in a negative spotlight among civilized nations of the world,” Akpakpan said by telephone on Thursday

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