What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005
 
IF YOU SPIT, CHEW GUM OR SMOKE POT - STAY AWAY FROM SINGAPORE

It isn’t listed as a "rogue" nation or a member of the "axis of evil" or on the lists of dictatorships or repressive regimes, but if I was a leader of a western democracy, I would be concerned about any of my citizens setting foot in the Republic of Singapore.

Remember the American teenager Michael Fay who was caned on his bare buttocks for vandalizing two cars?

Australian citizen Tuong Van Nguyen didn’t vandalize anything. He was arrested in Singapore and sentenced to death by hanging for being in possession of 386 grams of heroin 3 years ago. He wasn’t a drug dealer. It was a one time effort that appeared to be an act of both love and desperation. He was trying to raise money to pay off his twin brother's considerable debts.

It didn’t matter to the Singapore government. You’re caught with drugs - you hang - and that’s what will happen to Van Nguyen on Friday. No fifteen to twenty years of appeals. He’s lucky he’s lasted three years since his sentence was pronounced.

I don’t know what kind of warning Australians get about travel to Singapore, but if you’re an American citizen planning a trip, you’d be well advised to read the information provided by our government as follows:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe in Singapore than for similar offenses in the United States, and persons violating Singapore laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

There are strict penalties for possession and use of drugs as well as for trafficking in illegal drugs. Singapore has a mandatory death penalty for many narcotics offenses. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Visitors should be aware of Singapore's strict laws and penalties for a variety of actions that might not be illegal or might be considered minor offenses in the United States. These include jaywalking, littering, and spitting. Singapore has a mandatory caning sentence for vandalism offenses and caning may also be imposed for immigration violations and other offenses. Commercial disputes that may be handled as civil suits in the United States can escalate to criminal cases in Singapore, and result in heavy fines and prison sentences. There are no jury trials in Singapore, judges hear cases and decide sentencing. The Government of Singapore does not provide legal assistance except in capital cases; legal assistance may be available in some other cases through the Law Society.
Pleas for leniency for Van Nguyen have fallen on deaf ears - specifically on the deaf ears of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee_Hsien_Loong. It was the same in the case of Michael Fay. A different Prime Minister but the same response to international pleas for mercy. Deaf ears.

Supposedly, we have "good relations" with Singapore , but apparently we turn a blind eye to what has been called a pseudo-democracy and to their interesting ideas about crime and punishment.

I have sympathy for Van Nguyen who had the misfortune to be caught smuggling heroin in Singapore rather than in the United States of the United Kingdom, but the main reason that I comment on his case is to make the point that there are many countries in this world that are the antithesis of everything we believe and hold sacred - but that we deal with on a "friendly basis." Others we attack, condemn or - as in the case of our neighbor a few miles off our southern shore - we ostracize. But I also comment because the Van Nguyen story is a chilling reminder that both Singapore and the United States are among the minority of the world’s nations that still utilize the death penalty - though so far the United States only executes people for murder or treason. And in case you’re interested in who the rest of those minority countries are - minority in the sense that more countries have abandoned the death penalty than those who retain it - they are:

AFGHANISTAN, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, BAHAMAS, BANGLADESH, BARBADOS, BELARUS, BELIZE, BOTSWANA, BURUNDI, CAMEROON, CHAD, CHINA, COMOROS, CONGO , CUBA, DOMINICA, EGYPT, EQUATORIAL GUINEA, ERITREA, ETHIOPIA, GABON, GHANA, GUATEMALA, GUINEA, GUYANA, INDIA, INDONESIA, IRAN, IRAQ, JAMAICA, JAPAN, JORDAN, KAZAKSTAN, KOREA (North), KOREA (South), KUWAIT, KYRGYZSTAN, LAOS, LEBANON, LESOTHO, LIBYA, MALAWI, MALAYSIA, MONGOLIA, NIGERIA, OMAN, PAKISTAN, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY, PHILIPPINES, QATAR, RWANDA, SAINT CHRISTOPHER & NEVIS, SAINT LUCIA, SAINT VINCENT & GRENADINES, SAUDI ARABIA, SIERRA LEONE, SOMALIA, SUDAN, SWAZILAND, SYRIA, TAIWAN, TAJIKISTAN, TANZANIA, THAILAND, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, UGANDA, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, UZBEKISTAN, VIET NAM, YEMEN, ZAMBIA, ZIMBABWE

To paraphrase an old adage, the death penalty sure makes for some pretty odd bedfellows.