28 November 2005

Support Nguyen! - Blog Against Racism, part III

I'm unhappy about the Australian ninemsn site's poll today: "Will you boycott Singapore to protest against Nguyen's execution?" One reason I was upset was that I don't want to think that Nguyen's upcoming death is a foregone conclusion. I'm hoping for an (albeit unlikely) eleventh hour reprieve. I was also upset because the no votes were more than twice the yes votes.

Nguyen Tuong Van is an Australian citizen of Vietnamese descent, convicted of heroin smuggling in Singapore, and is sentenced to death by hanging this coming Friday morning (2 Dec, 2005). Nguyen was a "mule", that is, he smuggled the drugs, but was certainly not the ringleader. Throughout his trial, he claimed that he had agreed to smuggle the drugs in order to pay off debts owed by his twin brother.

Another recent drug smuggling case that has had wide media attention here in Australian is that of Schapelle Corby. Corby maintained her innocence throughout the trial in Bali, and was initially sentenced to 20 years. A retrial reduced this to 15 years. I don't recall whether there was a similar poll about Corby's freedom (she originally faced a potential death sentence as well), but Australians were a lot more supportive of Schapelle than Nguyen.

I don't know how much of this is related to gender (people tend to support harsher penalties for men than for women). And I don't know how much is related to a belief in Chapel's innocence as opposed to Nguyen's guilt. However, I do think that the lack of wider support for Nguyen is racially motivated. Australians are strongly anti-death penalty. How is it possible that they don't see Nguyen as one of "their own"? A lot of anti-Indonesian racist sentiment surfaced during the Corby trial, and this has been nearly invisible during Nguyen's more recent trial. (A radio host, Malcolm T. Elliott referred to Corby's three judges as "monkeys" and complained that they "don’t even speak English, mate".)

I was moved by an article today showing Nguyen's mother asking to be allowed to hug her son one last time. I think it humanises the whole sorry tale, and I hope it moves people to action.

Prime Minister John Howard has requested (four times, I think) that Singapore not execute Nguyen. He has repeatedly been turned down. He has refused to impose trade sanctions or use other political means to pressure Singapore.

For, more and up-to-date information, check out:


Anonymous Doychi said...

Well, I won't boycot Singapore over this. Nguyen went into Singapore knowing the penalties for smuggeling. Now don't take this as an indication that I agree with the death penalty, I don't, but I also don't believe that Australia should really be meddeling in Singapore's politcal afairs.

As for the cases in Bali (Schapelle Corby is not the only one on trial there), I think the Bali Nine are in much the same possition as Nguyen. People have decided that they are guilty and, to some degree, believe they are going to get what they deserve.

Also, I strongly believe that if you go to another country knowing the penalty for something and then get caught doing it no one has the right to change the penalty for "just in this case", because they are Australian/American/British...

8:58 am  
Anonymous The Fat Lady Sings said...

I think Singapore is being very hypocritical over this. I have done extensive traveling in Asia; and in both Thailand and Singapore, it is not uncommon to see locals openly smoking hashish. If, however a foreigner is caught with any drugs, their birthday is taken away - literally.

I haven't been to Bali, but I have friends who used to make that a once a year stop. It is also not uncommon to see Balinese locals using drugs. So it is disingenuous at best for them to claim any kind of moral or legal superiority. It’s very clearly a case of ‘do as I do, not as I say’. I absolutely cannot stand mendacity in any form - these governments should clean up their own drug lords before targeting other nationalities.

And don't EVEN get me started about the child sex trade in these self-same countries. I could wax lyrical on that subject alone. I am sorry this poor man is facing execution. Personally, I think your country should intervene; especially if you do not have the death penalty yourselves (I confess to some ignorance regarding Australian laws and politics). Perhaps there is a tinge of racism there as well. What do you think?

5:00 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

It's a hard one. On the one hand, I definitely know where you're coming from, Doychi. I read the Darwin Awards, for instance, and I have no problem with the stupid helping out the gene pool by not reproducing. The guy was an idiot. You don't smuggle drugs. It's a lose-lose proposition. And I'd like to see the heroin trade completely vanquished. While I support relaxed drug laws in many cases, heroin (like glue, which happens to be legal here in Australia) is NOT a victimless crime. It's too dangerous, too addictive. I don't believe someone can use it without harming themselves in some way. So there is no way that I would exponerate Nguyen.

That said, what if he were your brother? I'm sure everyone's brother/sister has done some bonehead things. Is the taking of life worth it? The argument can be made about cost of supporting prisoners for life. But we do it here in Australia for much more dangerous people (yep, the death penalty's been gone since 1985), so why not some kind of prisoner exchange?

As far as "meddling" in other country's politcal affairs, isn't that called "diplomacy"? We do it all the time (for instance, this little thing we got going called the Iraq war). Every international law and treaty exists because we're a world where we interfere.

Australia's currently negotiating several agreements with Singapore, including airspace, trade, etc. We have many subtle pressures we can apply, if we want.

I still think there's a way that Australians identify with Corby and not Nguyen. And it's not only due to innocence/guilt. There is no clear-cut innocence in Corby's case (although she may very well be innocent - new info about internal airport smuggling was just in the news yesterday). But there was a clear-cut outcry of "How dare those <people> stand trial over one of ours?" that didn't happen here. And I think it's because to many Aussies, Nguyen isn't "one of ours".

(As far as the Bali nine, I'm definitely feeling a bit of "compassion overload". Again, a bunch of idiots. I already have enough people I care about seeing out of foreign prisons, David Hicks being one we haven't yet even mentioned.)

5:52 pm  
Anonymous Myk said...

I'm not sure that Australian opposition to the death penalty is quite as strong as it seems. I really couldn't say for sure what the result would be if we had a referendum on it today.

I'm certainly against it, and in fact, I think one of the functions of our government should be to prevent our citizens being killed, using every legal method.

I haven't really been following the news enough to know how much more the Aust. Govt can do for Nguyen before reaching that limit.

To be honest, I care just as little about Nguyen as I did about Schapelle.

8:12 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

Hi Myk,

Well, now that Nguyen's body has returned to Australia, I don't think there will be as much discussion about capital punishment here in Australia as I'd like. (There's the idea floating around that Australia can take the lead in the Pacific Rim o human rights, but I just don't see that happening.)

It's sad that there are too many things to care about. I feel very limited in my capacity to act and change the world.

(Although I would be reminded of the
Margaret Mead quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.")

11:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think *Australia* should boycott/penalize Singapore over this, it would be too hypocritical. Whether *Australians* should is another question. I think I may, unless I find an effective way to make the same point.

[Ignore for the moment that Singapore seems a rather tricky place to boycott, as they tranship things more than they produce (like Nguyen's drugs! Hey!) and "Made in Singapore" is less common than it used to be.]

There's points on both sides. Obey the laws of the country you're in, sure. If they're hypocritical or untenable, try not to go there. But I'll encourage *everywhere* to abandon the death penalty, whether I'm a citizen or no. It rarely if ever provides justice.

What really gets me about Nguyen Tuong Van's case is that it makes the futility of our "War on Some Drugs" undeniably clear. Can anyone explain how it is economically sensible for the dealers to toss away the $20,000 of his brothers debt, plus the base cost of the drugs, airline tickets, drops and pickups and whatever other costs there may be. Simply tossed that money away with *no* training of their agent whatsoever. No attempt to help him hide the drugs, no coaching or practice to get him through metal detectors. Nothing to protect their investment at all.

The only way it makes sense is if loss of that much heroin *Has No Meaning To Its Owner Whatsoever*. It means less than the twenty cent coin I'd stop pick up off the street.

Clearly, the financial loss meant nothing. Clearly, getting mules is not a problem.

So can you say killing Nguyen Tuong Van death achieved anything at all?


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