ILLEGAL DRUGS IN SINGAPORE: PEOPLE STILL USE THEM DESPITE TOUGH LAWS AND THE DEATH PENALTY

ILLEGAL DRUGS IN SINGAPORE

Singapore is well known for hanging dope dealers. But not all that long ago Singapore had quite a few opium addicts. The drug was so prevalent that even the cats in some neighborhoods were addicted.

Describing her opium addict grandfather, a gainfully-employed mason in Singapore, Lavinia Chang told Time, "Nearly everything he earned was spent on feeding his habit. When he had money, he would smoke better-garde opium; when funds were low, he would buy the buy the poor-grade pellets that he swallowed several times a day. With no savings, there were times in between jobs when he could not even afford the pellets. That is when withdrawal symptoms kicked in."

"It would start off like a cold, with teary eyes and a runny nose, followed by involuntary twitches in the face. His hands would start to shake, so he could not even have a drink without spilling it. At the full-blown 'cold turkey' stage, he would lock himself in his room and push the key out from under the door. We could hear his desperate groaning from within but knew there was nothing we could do to help. I don't know how long he stayed locked up; it seemed like a very long time."

There were bad memories of "him shivering under a blanket at midday, with mucous dripping from his nose and saliva drooling from his opened mouth into a perspiration-soaked pillow...When he became quiet again, my mother or one of my aunties would go in and help him out of bed...Though he seemed barely conscious, I knew he was fully aware of his suffering. Watching we suffered too. That's one of the most cruel side effects of substance abuse. It produces a host of silence victims: parents, siblings, partners, children, grandchildren and friends."

When she was 12 her grandfather told her, "I was foolish and I thought I was buying a happier life. It was an escape. twenty cents a day helped me get through the horrible working conditions. I thought if I worked harder and longer, I would earn more for my family. But the price shot up once I became dependent. It has cost me my life. I never thought I would become addicted."

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Executions and Tough Drug Laws in Singapore

Under Singapore’s strict anti-drug laws, anyone found with more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine and 500 grams of cannabis or 250 grams of methamphetamines is assumed to be trafficking and faces a mandatory death sentence by hanging for trafficking. Those caught with smaller amounts trafficking drugs deemed less dangerous face imprisonment and cnaing. Penalties for consumption include up to 10 years in jail, a S$20 000 fine, or both.

A warning in big red letters on the immigration form given to people arriving at the airport in Singapore states that the death penalty anyone who smuggles drugs into Singapore or possesses even small amounts of heroin. In recent years, Singapore has begun extraditing drug suspect to the U.S.

Around the time of the Michael Fay caning in the late 1990s, four foreigners were executed for drug trafficking despite international pleas for clemency. The first Western prisoner to be executed for drug trafficking was a Dutchman named Johannes Van Damme, who was hanged in September 1994. In September 2004, an unemployed Singaporean drug addict was sentenced to death for trafficking because he was in possession of 227 grams of heroin. In a statement to the court, the man said he was not trafficking, rather he had been an addict since 1977 and used 7.5 grams of heroin a day.

More than 150 people were hanged between 1975, when tough laws on drugs were imposed, and 1998. In 1999, The Economist reported: “On March 19th, Singapore hanged three men, two Malaysians and a Singaporean, for possession of a small amount of the drug diamorphine and a few pounds of cannabis. The executions took Singapore's total so far this year to 11, putting its hangmen on track for one of their busiest years. Already, on a proportionate basis, Singapore leads the world in executions, hanging an average of one person every nine days, or 40 a year since 1994, according to figures compiled by Amnesty International. In 1994, Singapore beat even the United States in absolute numbers, 76 to 31, though its population of little over 3m compares with 265m for the United States. As many of Singapore's executions are not publicised, Amnesty reckons its figures could be an undercount. Most of those executed are not Singaporeans. They are often Thais and Malaysians convicted of smuggling drugs (just half a kilo of cannabis counts as trafficking and carries a mandatory death sentence). Murder and treason are capital offences, too. [Source: The Economist April 3-9, 1999]

In 1998, Singapore introduced the death penalty for meth traffickers. Associated Press reported: “Beefing up its already-strict anti-drug laws, Singapore will introduce the death penalty for traffickers of methamphetamines, an official said today. The move comes amid worries that an economic downturn in the region could aggravate a growing drug problem, said Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said. "People in financial straits may resort to drug pushing and trafficking,'' he said. In 1996, there were only five arrests linked to methamphetamine abuse in the tiny Southeast Asian nation. But in 1997, that number grew to 82, according to the government figures. [Source: Associated Press. April 11, 1998]

Singapore Eases and Defends Its Tough Stance on Drugs

Singaporean authorities have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, saying it is an effective deterrent to crime and has prevented drug syndicates from using Singapore as a base for their operations. Human rights activists have called for its abolition, arguing there is no evidence of its effectiveness as a crime deterrent.

Defending the death penalty for drug trafficking, the Singapore government has said human rights groups give more importance to prisoners than their victims. "Unfortunately, there has been little emphasis on the fact that thousands of lives are destroyed as a result of the drug problem," the Ministry of Law said in a statement sent to AFP. "Singaporeans value the right to live in a safe, secure and drug-free environment. The system we have chosen is a careful calibration of the risks that society faces and the punishment that can be imposed." [Source: Agence France Presse, November 22, 2012 **]

Around the time the statement was issued, AFP reported: “Parliament passed legal reforms abolishing mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking and murder cases, giving fresh hope to 34 inmates awaiting hanging -- the only form of execution. They can now be resentenced to life imprisonment under certain conditions. Judges will have discretion to impose life imprisonment on a person convicted of murder if the individual did not intend to kill. They can also impose a life term on a drug courier who cooperated with authorities in a "substantive way" or is suffering from an abnormality that "substantially impaired his mental responsibility for committing the offence". **

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, welcomed the reforms last week but raised questions about the requirement for the public prosecutor to certify that a drugs courier cooperated with police. "It's not clear at all what constitutes substantive cooperation," he said. Robertson also told AFP that "this is just the first step in a long journey and there needs to be a lot more done before Singapore can say that it is a rights-respecting government". **

“The Singapore law ministry said that Robertson "focuses exclusively on the rights of the drug traffickers, who engage in the trade for profit, and ignores the costs of the drug trade". The prisoner cooperation mechanism introduced by the government is neither novel nor unusual, the statement said. "Established jurisdictions such as the US and the UK also have prosecutor-operated mechanisms to recognise cooperation for the purposes of sentencing," it said. The prosecutor's discretion is also subject to judicial review, it added.” **

Drug Use in Singapore

According to Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) figures, 1,127 drug users were arrested in 2006 compared to 793 in 2005. Forty-nine percent of those arrested took drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and Nimetazepam. The city-state, which executed two Africans and an Australian in recent years, has faced pressure from rights groups and governments to end its mandatory death penalty for drug smuggling. Singapore defends its position by saying it needs tough laws to deter drug traffickers. But tough laws are still not enough to stop some drug users. "It's the same as having unprotected sex. You do it because it feels better. But if you get caught it's the worst high ever," said the wealthy student who declined to be named. [Source: Associated Press, August 16, 2007]

In August 2007, AFP reported: “About a thousand drug abusers were arrested in the first half of the year, doubling its number for the same period last year. According to the Central Narcotics Bureau, four out of five abusers arrested were repeat offenders, indicating that the problem of drug abuse is largely confined to the existing pool of abusers. Among those 999 arrested, some 400 were Subutex abusers. The bureau pointed out that as with any drug newly classified as a controlled substance, a high number of abusers was expected.

According to the police, however, there was a significant number of Subutex users prior to its controlled-substance classification last August. With continued enforcement, they believe the numbers will decline. Heroin abusers made up the second biggest group, with some 300 arrests made. Of this, 30 were new abusers. Police said with the exception of heroin, there has been a drop in the number of new abusers of other drugs. "We will continue to maintain high-profile preventive drug education, so that the number of new abusers is kept low, and the drug addict population will remain confined strictly to the repeat abusers," said S Vijakumar, deputy director of the Central Narcotics Bureau.

In January 2007, Reuters reported: “Drug-abuse cases in Singapore soared last year, mainly because of a surge in the use of Subutex, a drug which was introduced to help wean drug addicts off heroin, Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said. Singapore introduced Subutex as a prescription medication five years ago to help wean addicts off heroin. But the narcotics agency said that 30 percent of abusers caught were hooked on Subutex, which is sometimes mixed with a tranquiliser or other drugs to produce a high. But in mid-August, the government reclassified Subutex as an illegal drug. Since then, authorities have arrested a total of 347 people for abusing the drug. In all, Singapore has arrested 1127 users last year, up 42 percent from 793 in 2005, the CNB said in a statement. "Overall, the local drug situation remains well contained, with drugs remaining scarce and prices high," a CNB official told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that Singapore maintains a "zero-tolerance policy" on drug abuse. [Source: Reuters, January 23, 2007]

In 2011, AFP reported: Singapore's drug enforcement agency admitted it had under-reported the number of people arrested for drugs offences between 2008 and 2010 due to a statistical error. As a result, the picture showed the drug situation in the city-state was improving during the period when it fact it got worse each year, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said in a statement. Bureau director Ng Boon Gay on Friday said there was an error in the statistical computation that excluded drug cases still under investigation. The mistake was found to have begun in 2008 when the bureau shifted to a new information technology system. The correct figures show there were 2537 drug abusers arrested in 2008 instead of 1925 as originally reported. This worsened to 2616 in 2009, instead of 1883, and to 2887 last year instead of 1805. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 23, 2011]

Party Drugs Popular with Singapore Yuppies

In 2007, Melanie Lee of Reuters wrote: “It is Friday night. Ling, a bank analyst in Armani heels, pops a small, blue pill into her mouth and dances to the thumping beat. Later she heads to a house party with her friends where they snort cocaine off tabletops. Singapore's party drug scene used to be the domain of high-flying foreign bankers and other expatriates who would take ecstasy and snort cocaine in defiance of the city state's drug laws which, with a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, are among the toughest in the world. [Source: Melanie Lee, Nampa-Reuters, December 12, 2007 <^>]

“But these days, the drug scene for foreigners is not as pronounced as among well-to-do locals in a country which has the world's fastest-growing number of high net worth individuals, totalling some 67 000 in 2006. And fast cars and fancy clothes are not the only things young, hip and rich Singaporeans want to buy. "In general, you go for 'trippy' drugs, drugs that make you feel good as well as make you dance harder," said a student from a wealthy family, who declined to be identified. With one gram of methamphetamine costing S$300, it is an expensive habit that not everyone can feed. <^>

“Singaporean authorities say drug use is low, but anecdotal evidence tells of the emergence of an underground party drug scene mostly at night clubs frequented by the wealthy. The booming economy, driven by manufacturing and financial services, has made the city-state a playground for the rich. And with money to throw around, some of these rich Singaporeans are spending it on drugs smuggled from neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. They are taking a big risk. "There are definitely a lot of people doing drugs in the party scene, but it doesn't get reported because there's no way to really catch them since the circle is closed," said bank analyst Ling, who would only give her first name. <^>

“In 2004, the CNB carried out a raid which exposed a glitzy underground drug scene. The cocaine drug bust saw 23 people arrested, including the former editor of high-society magazine Singapore Tatler, an award-winning French chef and an oil broker. Three of those arrested jumped bail and left the country. They are still wanted by the Singapore police and Interpol. Nigel Simmonds, the editor of Singapore Tatler, was jailed for two years. See Below <^>

Drug Smuggling in Singapore

Melanie Lee of Nampa-Reuters wrote: “ Drugs and gangs With its borders closely monitored by vigilant authorities, it is not clear how drugs enter Singapore. But former gang members say some drugs are brought in on row boats from nearby Indonesian islands, or are smuggled along the causeway separating Singapore from Malaysia. "Don't think it's elaborate trucks with hidden compartments - sometimes the drugs are just in a motorcycle front basket and driven through," said Jonathan, who spent 7 years as a gang member before entering a drug rehabilitation programme.” [Source: Melanie Lee, Nampa-Reuters, December 12, 2007]

In December 2008, Reuters reported: “Drug smugglers are increasingly using Singapore as a transit point to ship heroin to the United States and Europe, despite some of the world's strictest drug laws in the city-state, the Straits Times said. The newspaper said 46 kilogrammes of heroin were seized in the first nine months of the year, nearly three times the total for the whole of 2007, leading crime experts to suspect trafficking has increased. The country's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) believes that 11 kilogrammes of pure grade heroin seized in the year-long haul was likely bound for the US and Europe, the newspaper said [Source: Reuters, December 16, 2008]

“The Strait Times said paradoxically smugglers were drawn to Singapore by its tough approach to drugs, as well as good international air connections. "The use of Singapore as a transshipment point is not common. However, despite our tough laws and heavy penalties, there are always people who are prepared to risk their lives to traffic drugs," CNB spokeswoman Agnes Lim told Reuters. US and European authorities are lulled into assuming that most smugglers would avoid Singapore at all costs, with flights out of the Southeast Asian country to the US and Europe in general less controlled than from places such as Pakistan or Myanmar , the newspaper cited Thomas Pietschmann, a researcher with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as saying. More heroin is also flooding into Singapore because of bumper opium harvests last year in the Golden Triangle between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar , as well as in top producer Afghanistan , the newspaper said.” [Ibid]

Drug Busts in Singapore

In May 2005, Reuters reported: “Singapore arrested 158 suspected drug offenders, including four traffickers, in islandwide raids, police said as part of an unprecedented campaign against drug use in the city-state. A 46-year-old Chinese production worker and his 24-year-old associate were arrested by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers at a train station after they sold about 10 grams of synthetic drug ketamine to an undercover police officer, the CNB said in a statement. Separately, a 37-year-old Chinese man and his supplier were arrested after the former sold 2.5 grams (0.08 ounce) of heroin to an undercover officer, it said. [Source: Reuters, May 18, 2005]

Of the remaining suspects, 104 tested positive for drug consumption, police said. Some of them were released on bail. If convicted of trafficking in a controlled drug, the first set of suspects face a minimum penalty of three years imprisonment and three strokes of the cane. The second set of suspects faces at least five years jail and five strokes of the cane under Singapore's drug laws, which are among the world's harshest. About 10 days before the arrest police arrested 141 drug offenders, including a suspected trafficker.

In 2005, AFP reported: “An unusual bulge in a Singaporean's pants led to the city-state's largest heroin seizure and leaves the man and his alleged accomplice facing the death penalty, a report said. The 45-year-old man and his driver, both unidentified, were found with 3.3kg of heroin worth an estimated 822 000 Singapore dollars as they attempted to enter Singapore from neighbouring Malaysia, the Straits Times said. Customs officials were alerted when they noticed a huge bulge in one of the men's pants. They subsequently discovered the heroin hidden in plastic packets strapped to the insides of his underpants and thigh. Both men are being held by the Central Narcotics Bureau. If convicted, both would be executed. Possessing 15g or more of heroin carries a mandatory ath sentence in Singapore. [Source: AFP, August 20, 2005]

French Chef and Other Foreigners Arrested in High-Society Drug Bust

In 2005, AFP reported: “An award-winning French chef arrested in a high-society drug bust in Singapore in 2004 year was sent to jail for one year for cocaine possession, his attorney said. But Francois Fabien Mermilliod, 29, may have his jail term reduced for good behaviour, lawyer Edmond Pereira told AFP. "In his mitigation, he expressed regret and remorse for what he has done," Pereira said of his client. Mermilliod, who received a culinary award from the World Gourmet Summit in Singapore was among the six foreign nationals arrested last year in a high-profile drug bust that included members of prominent local families. He was caught with 0.35 grams (0.01 ounce) of cocaine in October during raids by the Central Narcotics Bureau. Mermilliod was a chef at the upmarket Flutes at the Fort restaurant and prior to that he worked at several posh eateries in Singapore, including the Au Petit Salut, which is popular with the expatriate crowd. [Source: Agence France Presse, January 10, 2005]

“British former banker Andrew William Veale, 40, another of the foreigners arrested, was also given a one-year jail sentence for consuming cocaine, which is believed to be rarely available in Singapore. Nigel Simmonds, 40, the British former editor of the Singapore Tatler magazine, which chronicles the parties and posh homes of the city-state's rich and famous, was jailed for two years on cocaine and metamphetamine possession and consumption charges. [Ibid]

In October 2004, the Straits Times reported: “The British editor of Singapore Tatler magazine and an award-winning French chef were among 23 people arrested in a swoop on a suspected cocaine trafficking ring on Thursday and yesterday. They included expatriates and Singaporeans, brokers, businessmen, a young director of a shipping company and executives, including one whom sources said was always driven around in a Rolls-Royce. Most were picked up on suspicion of having or consuming drugs, but three face the death penalty if found guilty of drug trafficking. They are Singaporean Marx Oh Chee Wee, 31, a director of events management company Zero Event Concepts; Tunisian Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi, 35, marketing manager of Bobby Rubino's restaurant; and his Singaporean girlfriend, Mariana Abdullah, 24. Tatler editor Nigel Bruce Simmonds, 35, and chef Francois Fabien Mermilliod, 29, of the Flutes at the Fort restaurant in Fort Canning, were among 20 nabbed on Thursday for either possessing or consuming drugs. [Source: Straits Times (Singapore), October 9, 2004]

Five tested positive for drugs, the Central Narcotics Bureau ( CNB ) said. Also seized in the operation were 64 grams of cocaine and small amounts of other party drugs. CNB deputy director S. Vijakumar said Oh and Laroussi had been watched since mid-August, after the bureau received a tip-off. Officers staked out Laroussi's apartment at Moulmein Green condominium along Moulmein Road. They watched as four men visited Laroussi in the space of seven hours, beginning at noon.

The men were trailed, and later stopped by officers who found a variety of drugs on them, Mr Vijakumar said. The four were charged with drug possession. Simmonds is accused of having 0.8g of Ice on him, while Mermilliod is accused of having a packet containing 0.5g of cocaine in his haversack. Also charged were Singaporeans Andy Ng Kwang Thiam, a 23-year-old director of well-known local shipping company Ng Teow Yhee and Sons, and technician Hamden Mohd, 35. Laroussi was nabbed on Thursday night, when he left his apartment. Officers found a cocktail of drugs - 61.2g of cocaine, 5.4g of ketamine, 2.6g of Ice, 1.3g of cannabis and 32 Ecstasy pills - in his home. The drugs had a street value of over $20,000. Mariana was in the apartment and was also arrested. Another team of CNB officers then arrested Oh at his house at Hyde Park Gate in Seletar Camp, where they found 2.3g of cocaine and 23.6g of cannabis. Compiling a list of the alleged syndicate's clients, officers then spent the rest of the night hauling in more suspected drug users.

Singaporean Students Jailed for a Year after Smoking Pot in Australia

In 1999, Barry Porter wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Two students studying in Australia have been jailed for a year after returning to Singapore with faint traces of drugs still in their blood three weeks after smoking cannabis at an end-of-exams party. Film student Gavin Seow Lek Chen, 28, and his fiancee, Lynn Cheok Lye Peng, 22, a communications student, arrived home from Perth for their end-of-term break. It was only when they later tried returning from a two-day break to Malacca in neighbouring Malaysia with Cheok's parents that they were stopped for a random urine test at a checkpoint. They may have thought that since they took the drugs in Australia they had not breached Singapore's tough anti-drug laws. But the island-state's Misuse of Drugs Act was changed last year after Chief Justice Yong Pung How upheld a 12-month jail term for Ecstasy consumption abroad in 1997. [Source: Barry Porter, South China Morning Post. November 17, 1999]

Seow and Cheok are believed to be the first Singaporeans to be convicted under the altered law. In passing sentence on Seow and Cheok, District Judge F. G. Remedios said: "All Singaporeans must be aware that consumption of drugs is dealt with very strictly here." Pleading for leniency, Seow and Cheok's lawyer Muraalidharan Pillai said the couple went to parties where it was common for the hosts to offer cannabis to guests. He stressed that attitudes towards cannabis consumption in Australia were less conservative to those in Singapore. One of Cheok's fellow Singaporean students at Curtin University told the court: "Trying to get pot [cannabis] is normal. It's like asking for cigarettes."

Girlfriend of Drug Dealer and German Teenager Escapes Gallows in Singapore

Sgdeathpenalty.blogspot reported: “The Straits Times reported in September 2010 that a Singaporean drug syndicate leader, who had been arrested trafficking over 60 grams of heroin, was given the death sentence while his girlfriend from Thailand escaped the noose, even though both faced the same charge. Phuthita Somchit, 35, defend herself by claiming not to know that the content was heroin, even though she knew it was drugs. But she had taken a much more active role in drug trafficking, as she would take orders over the phone, pack drugs and even recruit runners to deliver them. [Source: sgdeathpenalty.blogspot.jp]

According to the Strait Times, “The leader of a drug syndicate was sentenced to hang for trafficking in more than 60 grams of heroin, but his Thai girlfriend, who was tried on the same charge, escaped the gallows. The High Court believed the testimony of Phuthita Somchit, 35, who said in her defence that she knew she was dealing in drugs but that she did not know it was heroin. Her boyfriend, Singaporean Quek Hock Lye, 45, did not put up any defence. Giving his decision yesterday after 17 days of hearing, Justice Lee Seiu Kin made the unusual move of stepping down her charge to attempting to traffic in a Class C drug, although the drug is still listed as heroin, which is under Class A. After the charge was reduced, Deputy Public Prosecutor Stella Tan expressed her reservations about the amendment. She questioned why it was Class C - the least serious category under the Misuse of Drugs Act - and not Class B. She was gven ine years in jail.

This is not the first time that a female was given a lesser sentence that what the law stipulated for drug trafficking. In Singapore's context, trafficking more than 15g of heroin meant mandatory death. The High Court must have considered the risk of political fallout between Thailand and Singapore if one of their nationals were hanged in Singapore, but most importantly, hanging a foreign lady and a mother of two meant only bad publicity for the country and unwanted attention to the growing anti death penalty sentiments on the ground.

Therefore Phuthita Somchit was only sentenced to 9 years imprisonment, even though her original charge would have most certainly meant that she could not possibly escape the gallows. Other cases worth noting include German teenager Julia Bohl, whose government intervened and saved her from almost certain execution for trafficking over 600g of marijuana, and Filipino domestic worker Flor Contemplacion who was sentenced to hang in 1995, and the political ruckus in Philippines after her execution lead to an unwritten rule that domestic workers in Singapore would escape the death penalty even if their crime mandates judicial punishment by hanging. This is evident in the case of domestic workers Guen Aguilar, who was charged for murder of her friend and 18 years old Indonesian Juminem, who killed her Singaporean employer.

This selective application of the death penalty must stop and the only way to do it fairly would be to completely abolish the death sentence. Worse still, the risk of executing an innocent person is something that the Singapore courts have not been able to prevent, as put by former Chief Justice Yong Pung How. When questioned by human rights lawyer M. Ravi whether an innocent man could be hanged due to procedure, Yong Pung How's answer was a chilling "yes". Some of these above-mentioned cases are expounded in the book "Once a Jolly Hangman", whose author, Alan Shadrake, was arrested and charged for suggesting that the Singapore judiciary was not independent because of how selective the death sentence is meted out, especially on certain politically sensitive cases.

Singapore Executes Two Africans and an Australian for Trafficking Drugs

In January 2007, AFP reported: “Singapore executed two convicted African drug traffickers after their appeals for clemency were turned down and despite protests from the UN and rights activists. Iwuchukwu Tochi, 21, of Nigeria, and Okeke Nelson Malachy, 35, whom officials said was stateless, were hanged at Changi prison in the early hours as protesters campaigning against the death penalty held a candlelight vigil outside. Activists had been lobbying the government to halt Tochi's execution, but expressed shock that Malachy -- whom Amnesty International believes was South African -- was also hanged, as there had been no word on his case.

The Central Narcotics Bureau confirmed the executions in a brief statement. "The appeals of both Tochi and Malachy to the Court of Appeal and to the President [S.R. Nathan] for clemency have been turned down. Their sentences were carried out this morning at Changi Prison," it said. "I'm surprised. From what I have heard ... Malachy was not supposed to hang. I was not expecting it," Chee Siok-chin, a campaigner against the death penalty, told reporters. A Nigerian embassy spokeswoman said they had informed Tochi's family about the execution and were waiting for instruction on what to do with the body. [Source: AFP, January 27, 2007]

Tochi put up the defence of not knowing bag of capsules contained heroin, but medicinal herbs from Africa. In sentencing Tochi, the judged noted "Consequently, even if he may not have actual knowledge that he was carrying diamorphine, his ignorance did not exculpate him because it is well established that ignorance is a defence only when there is no reason for suspicion and no right and opportunity of examination." [Source: sgdeathpenalty.blogspot.jp]

Singapore Executes 25-Year-Old Australian for Trafficking Drugs

Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged at Singapore’s Changi prison in 2005. He had been caught with 14 ounces of heroin at Changi International Airport during a stopover between Cambodia and Australia. The Singapore government denied the Australian government’s request for clemency. “The sentence was carried out this morning at Changi Prison,” the Home Affairs Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Reuters reported: “Singapore executed an Australian drug trafficker just before dawn despite repeated pleas by Australia's government for clemency, sending a chill over relations between the long-time allies. Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, was hanged at the city-state's Changi prison just after 6.00 am (2200 GMT). A minute after the execution, a large church bell in Nguyen's home city of Melbourne tolled 25 times - once for every year of his life. [Source: Associated Press, Reuters, msnbc.com, December 1, 2005 +^+]

“The hanging follows weeks of campaigning by his lawyers, his family and civil rights groups to stop the execution. Thousands of people gathered in Australia to pray and mourn for Nguyen in the final 24 hours of his life while Singapore activists moved in pairs overnight to light candles at the prison. Public gatherings of more than four people require a police permit in the tightly-controlled city-state. "I hope the strongest message that comes out of this...is a message to the young of Australia - don't have anything to do with drugs, don't use them, don't touch them, don't carry them, don't traffic in them," Australian Prime Minister John Howard told Australian radio. +^+

“Australia, a staunch opponent of capital punishment, ditched diplomacy this week and called the hanging a "barbaric" act. About 70 people, including Australian politicians, gathered outside the Singapore High Commission in Canberra on Friday with a banner reading "Oh Singapore, how could you?" while protesters clutching flowers rallied in Sydney and Melbourne. 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. "She said to me she was talking to him and able to touch his hair and face. It was a great comfort to her," Nguyen's lawyer Julian McMahon told reporters outside the prison, which was crowded with reporters and onlookers. +^+

“Nguyen's twin brother Khoa and a family lawyer arrived at the prison at dawn. They could not witness the execution but said they wanted to be as close as possible to Nguyen when he died. His mother, Kim Nguyen, was in a Singapore chapel with friends, praying for her son. Analysts said short-term relations between the countries would be strained because of the execution, but said Singapore would not likely budge on its mandatory death sentence for crimes such as murder, firearms offences and drug trafficking. +^+

News agencies reported: “Australia had been lobbying for months to stop the execution of the 25-year-old, who received a mandatory death sentence after he was caught in 2002 at Singapore's Changi Airport on his way home to Melbourne carrying nearly 14 ounces of heroin. Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock called it "a most unfortunate, barbaric act that is occurring." Ruddock criticized the imposition of the death penalty, especially in Nguyen’s case, which he said had mitigating circumstances — Nguyen said he smuggled the drugs to try to pay off loan-shark debt for his brother in Australia. Asked about the comment, Lee Hsien Loong would only say that "the Australian press is colorful." Lee emphasized that all factors, including Australian letters for clemency, had been "taken into account" but said that "the law will have to take its course." He said had the drugs gotten into circulation they would have caused misery for thousands of people, and said his country had to uphold the rule of law "with impartiality for Singaporeans and foreigners alike."[Source: Associated Press, msnbc.com, December 1, 2005]

Nguyen’s lawyer, Lex Lasry, told Australian television from Singapore that Nguyen, a Catholic whose family came from Vietnam, was “ready to die.” “He has little concern for himself. He has a great insight into his situation and he is, in fact, ready to die,” he said. While many Australians held candle-lit vigils for Nguyen on the eve of his execution, the country was divided. A survey by Morgan Poll conducted on Wednesday night showed 47 percent of Australians believe Nguyen should be executed, 46 percent said the death penalty should not be carried out, and seven percent were undecided. Australia abolished the death penalty decades ago. The last man hanged in Australia was convicted murderer Ronald Ryan, who was hanged in a Melbourne prison in 1967. [Ibid]

Three Escape Death Penalty in High-Society Drug Case

In 2004, AFP reported: “A Tunisian man and two Singaporeans facing the death penalty over a high-society drug bust will escape the gallows after their trafficking charges were watered down, lawyers and court officials said Monday, Dec 6. In a series of raids on Singapore's social elite last month the trio were each charged with possessing more than 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of cocaine, double the amount that triggers a mandatory death sentence. Tunisian Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi, his Singaporean girlfriend, Mariana Abdullah and another local, Marx Oh, were alleged to be the ringleaders of the drug syndicate and facing execution. But the lawyer for Laroussi and Oh, Subhas Anandan, said laboratory tests conducted by law enforcement officials had shown the amount of pure cocaine allegedly found in their possession fell below the crucial 30-gram mark. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 6, 2004 \=\]

Laroussi was found to be allegedly in possession of 25.2 grams of cocaine, while Oh was alleged to be in possession of 21.6 grams. "It just means that they are facing charges now (that) if they are convicted, they will face a minimum of 20 years, maximum of 30 years and 15 strokes of the cane," Subhas told reporters. "But they don't hang. I mean that's the only consolation you have." A court official told AFP that Abdullah had also escaped the death penalty after her charges had been lessened. Nigel Simmonds, the British former editor of high-society magazine Singapore Tatler, and Dutch business executive Petrus van Wanrooij, were also arrested although they face lesser charges of drug possession. \=\

Singapore-Born Ex-Junkie Denied Citizenship Over His Drug Use

In 2003, AFP reported: “He is an ex-heroin junkie who has spent too much time in jail for a society that does not easily forgive crime. He has virtually no education and his thin Chinese frame merges easily into Singapore's crowded malls. Yet Barnabas Lim is emerging as an unlikely focus of public sympathy and respect here as he struggles against Singapore's conservative government for a basic right -- citizenship. Lim was born in Singapore 33 years ago, has lived his entire life in the tiny city-state and even served in the nation's military for two years. He works full-time at a car-grooming company, attends church regularly and intends to marry a Singaporean woman next year. But according to the Singapore government, Lim still does not deserve citizenship. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 2, 2003 *=*]

“Instead he is regarded as a "permanent resident", which makes him a stateless citizen without many of the basic privileges such as a passport and financial benefits that are given to virtually all other Singaporeans. In an interview with AFP, Lim says authorities did not give exact reasons as to why they rejected his two applications for citizenship, lodged in 1997 and last year. "I am born and bred in Singapore. I did national service. I don't understand," Lim says. *=*

“But his complicated past provides all the answers, and a few insights into the government's unyielding trait of putting the nation's interests above the individual's. Lim's parents were not married when he was born. Giving birth out of wedlock is still regarded unfavourably in this conservative society and it meant Lim did not automatically qualify for citizenship. Compounding the problem, Lim's Singaporean father spent most of his son's early childhood in jail for being a gang member and his mother was also officially just a permanent resident. Lim says his mother was also born in Singapore but failed to gain citizenship when the nation became independent in 1965. "At the time of independence, you had to have a birth certificate to register for citizenship. Her relatives lost it," Lim says. *=*

“Lim quit school at age 12 after taking up glue-sniffing. His habit quickly progressed to cannabis and, after two years of national service from the age of 18, eventually heroin. Lim spent much of the 1990s trying to hold down a job as a hairdresser but instead mostly tangled with authorities. A two-year jail sentence for heroin possession was his harshest punishment. But in 1999 Lim became a born-again Christian and, after an initial tough period of fighting his habit, says he has since been drug-free. Lim largely accepted his fate as a stateless citizen in Singapore after his initial rejection in 1997. But he applied again last year after flying to Qatar to start a job as an event coordinator he had lined up through friends. "I got turned back at the airport. They didn't allow me to go in because I was not holding a national passport," he says. *=*

“With few answers from the government, Lim wrote a letter to the biggest selling newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, on September 27 this year. "I am not a foreigner applying to become a citizen, but a true-blue Singaporean, born and bred here. Why am I denied the privilege of being a Singapore citizen," Lim wrote, while admitting to his criminal past. *=*

“Lim's plight has touched a nerve in Singapore's society, which is often regarded as having been conditioned to routinely obey the People's Action Party that has ruled the country since independence. "Take heart that there are Singaporeans who do feel that you belong here," one woman wrote in the Straits Times, reflecting the views of many who have filled the letters pages of the daily and other newspapers. "Mr Lim has, I feel, more than earned the right to citizenship, and the intransigence of our immigration authorities to see the broader picture only serves to impede the efforts made to bond us as a nation," wrote another. "Deserving folks like him, whatever their stripes, who call Singapore home should not be left out on a limb." *=*

“The Singapore government responded to the public debate in a letter to the Straits Times that said: "Being born and having grown up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship". It said factors taken into consideration when determining citizenship included an applicant's good conduct record, parents' marriage status and "other compassionate factors". *=*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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