December 02, 2005
Death Penalty Executed in Singapore
"Van Nguyen's death penalty is executed!" A news item that has been bothering me all day! It must have been a long and tortuous wait for the 25 year old Australian who was arrested in 2002 for possession of cocaine in Singapore; a place that has very low tolerance for crime and takes strict action against any violations that occur in its jurisdiction, regardless of the nationality of the wrongdoer. It isn't a surprise then that Singapore is deemed one of the safest and cleanest cities in the world.
The Nguyen incident is reminiscent of the caning of Michael Fay, an American teen, in Singapore during the mid nineties. Graffitti was the charge against Fay who had spray painted some cars in a parking lot. Though we in the west perceived the sentence as harsh, the popular local verdict was that vandalism was a 'crime' by Singapore law, and the flogging of Fay would serve as a deterrant for other youths with similar agendas.
I find it difficult to rationalize what happened to Nguyen, yet aren't we told to 'do in Rome as Romans do', and that ignorance of the law isn't an excuse. I think there are two separate issues at loggerheads in this case; one of the individual's rights and the other that of national sovereignty. That is perhaps why my decision making is clouded by questions such as: Is Singapore law justifiable? Would a different geographic location have changed Van Nguyen's fate? What is the prime objective of punishment; to punish the wrongdoer, to make him aware of his wrong, to serve as an example for prospective wrongdoers?