The Guardian 30 November, 2005


Capital punishment and drug runners

The Communist Party of Australia is opposed to capital punishment in Australia or in any other country. The death sentence imposed on Van Nguyen by the Singaporian legal authorities should be commuted to life imprisonment.

He was intercepted carrying almost 400 grams of high-grade heroin, enough to make 26,000 hits ó not an insignificant amount. He surely knew what he was doing and the consequences of his action should he be caught. Opium is not grown in Singapore, nor is it processed into heroin there. It is reported that Van Nguyen pick up the drugs in Cambodia and used Singapore as a transit point.

There are aspects to the case which raise doubts about the validity of some of the claims being made. It is stretching credibility to suppose that the drugs were being imported to Australia to pay for his brotherís debts which are reported to have amounted to no more than $20,000. This debt was reported as also being associated with drugs. This relatively small amount could have been paid off by any number of means other than drug running.

The importation of drugs could result in the loss of life of other young people in Sydney, Melbourne or some other Australian city. Is this an acceptable price to pay for the liquidation of one personís relatively small debt? It seems that those who are whipping up the current campaign are prepared to pay that price in the suffering of others.

There are several other Australians who have been executed in Singapore for similar offences but no campaign was mounted in their support. So why such a campaign now or are there some connections that have not been revealed?

Some of those who are campaigning on the issue of the death penalty are hardly consistent in their approach either. Singapore is being singled out and portrayed as a particularly notable offender in this area. Scores of people spend agonising years on "death row" in the United States but not a word is being said about that situation. Is it because a large proportion of these prison inmates facing execution are Afro-Americans or are of Hispanic origin?

Another aspect which has brought protests is the mandatory nature of sentencing for drug running in Singapore. Mandatory sentencing negates the legal system and deprives judges of taking into account any surrounding circumstances. It should be opposed. But letís be consistent. We still have mandatory detention of refugees in Australia and it is only up until recently that mandatory sentencing was in vogue in the Northern Territory.

Some East Asian countries are trying desperately to eliminate the scourge of drugs which have such devastating consequences for thousands of young people. But some Australians appear to be "soft" on drug runners even to the point of making Van Nguyen a virtual hero who is being wronged by the Singaporean authorities.

Drug running is a serious crime and those who commit it must face serious penalties. The tone of the public campaign surrounding Van Nguyenís case can only weaken the campaign against drugs in Australia, even to the point of encouraging others that they will get the backing of the Australian Government (and even more so the Labor Party) to pressure other governments, attempting to fight drug trafficking, to override domestic laws. This is a bad course for Australia to tread if it is concerned for relations with Asian countries.

In putting forward the just and humane demand for an end to the death penalty, we must not seek to make light of the serious nature of drug-related crime. Illicit drugs are a curse for disoriented young people, the poor and oppressed. On the other side, drug pedalling is a source of huge profits, corruption and violence in the community. In many ways, drugs hinder the struggle for a more just society.

While the call should go out for the sparing of the lives of even the most cynical of those involved in the illicit drug trade and for measures to reform the behaviour of those who get caught up in the trafficking of drugs, we must insist that crime related to drug trafficking is viewed as a serious anti-social act by the relevant authorities and by the community.

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