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?

8 comments:

BD said...

In a tiny concession to Australia, Singapore’s prison authority allowed Nguyen to hold hands with his mother before his execution but rejected pleas to let them have a final hug.
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What could be the rationale behind this. I'm still wondering.

Global Indian said...

I am one who would always say that Death Penalty is required and should be used for hardcore criminals.

But to use it on a person with no other criminal history and who has no intention of committing crime on their territory (Nguyen is taking the drug from Combodia to Australia, Changi Airport was only the transit point) is a bit too much to comprehend. When I read that the prison authorities rejected pleas of his mother to hug him, I was shocked. How can this happen in a so-called 'free' society? After all, what is wrong with a hug.

I lived in Singapore for a brief time (that too during the SARS time), and I liked the strict implementation of the laws, particularly those involving cleanliness. But this incident show their inflexibility in using these laws according to the situation. The judges had no option but to give the death sentence (death sentence is mandatory for anyone who is caught with more than 15g of drugs) but I hoped that Mr. Nathan (President of Singapore) would agree for clemency.

Saurabh said...

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?

In Singapore's case and many Arabian countries, I believe it is to set an example.

You could possibly be getting beheaded in public someplace else for the same thing ...

Could it be due to the inability of these countries to otherwise curb crime?

Fear is the biggest (de)motivator ...

bablu said...

Laws are surely not meant to be broken....Obey the law of teh country...

Anonymous said...

Singapore had every right to hang him, if the state does think so it usually does right or wrong the thing get done.. and results matter.. right!

R

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I have so many mixed feelings about things like this.

~Deb

sonyared said...

My feelings regarding this is...well yes geographical location does make a big difference. Not having a criminal record for a misdemeanor should not result in severe punishment especially when it is done on a non-native/citizen of that country.

Vijayeta said...

A never ending debate...but does set u thinking about a lot of other things...
Hey, my inner european is Italian too...and i had similar thoughts on the hijab chic article on www.slate.com when i read it the first time...
But as someone from mainstream media, i've reprimanded actresses and models for having gained that teensy bit of weight between 2 shoot schedules. And felt extremely guilty afterwards...
:)