As Australian readers will be quite well aware, for the last couple of weeks the headlines every day of every major newspaper have been concerned with the plight of Van Tuong Nguyen. Nguyen is an Australian who was convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore, after attempting to smuggle several hundred grams of Heroin on a flight, and consequently sentenced to death. After countless attempts to have his sentence commuted via diplomacy and court battles, Nguyen was finally executed this morning.
While I’m completely opposed to the death penalty, I’ve been pretty disgusted by much of the reaction here in Australia, particularly by the main stream media. In the lead up to Nguyens execution, some politicians were calling for an economic embargo against Singapore, others were participating in candle-lit vigils, others were demanding that the Prime Minister declare a national minute’s silence, all the while the media was making Nguyen out to be some sort of God who was an innocent victim and taking online polls on what we should do as a nation to remember him.
This reaction is absolutely appalling for two reasons. Firstly, these people have essentially been making out that old Nguyen was some kind of national hero and demanding the sort of tributes that we give to the war dead. Let’s be perfectly clear on what Nguyen was – a low-life drug trafficker, with no respect for the lives of people other than his own, and who was attempting to commit a crime, which, had it succeeded, would have cost the lives of countless individuals and ruined countless more. Secondly, Singapore, and many other nations for that matter, routinely execute people for the same crime. On all of these occasions there has been silence. The churches, the politicians, the media and the countless other groups who condemned the immorality of this execution have historically been silent. Only now, when an Australian citizen is sent to the gallows do they decide it’s worth protesting about. This completely undermines the moral credibility of all these groups. If we oppose the death penalty, which we should in my opinion, then we should oppose it per se, not just because it’s applied to an Australian. Effectively all these groups have been saying “it’s okay when you execute Singaporeans, they don’t count you see. But, if you ever lay a finger on an Australian we’ll refer you to the International Court of Justice and implement trade sanctions against you”.