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Veteran of 850 executions
Singapore Fires Sole Hangman
As His Identity Is Revealed by Australian Media
By Peter McCrossan
Staff Writer
An execution by hanging

Singapore, known today for executing a higher proportion of prisoners than any other nation, including China and Saudi Arabia, is facing a dilemma at present – they have no hangman to operate the gallows.

Mr. Darshan Singh, the country's only hangman and overseer of some 850 executions in the past, was relieved of his position by the Singapore government recently after his identity was revealed in an Australian newspaper. Media speculation indicates a foreign hangman will have to be drafted in, as no suitable replacement for Mr. Singh has yet been selected.

The situation has added to the already muddled diplomatic situation, which has developed since the rejection of the final appeal for clemency in the case of an Australian drug smuggler sentenced to death earlier this year.

Growing international pressure has mounted for clemency to be granted to Van Nguyen Tuong, an Australian national who was convicted of smuggling heroin through Singapore's Changi Airport in 2002 and was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 2, 2005.

After his apprehension for importing 396.2 grams of heroin into Singapore, he was convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of smuggling more than 15 grams of heroin. In October 2004 the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal against the death sentence.

Nguyen is the first Australian to face execution since Malaysia executed convicted drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers nearly 20 years ago. While admitting his guilt, he claims he was only transporting the drugs to help pay off the debts of his brother, a former heroin addict.

Singapore has consistently remained steadfast in its sentencing of drug smugglers, insisting that the law must be applied as drugs ruin the lives of addicts. The dilemma for Australian Prime Minister John Howard lies in the fact that criticism of Singapore's justice system would probably result in the hardening of its determination to carry out the sentence, as has happened in the past.

The Australian government had hoped to persuade Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to allow the case to be referred to The International Court of Justice. This request was turned down. While the prime minister of Singapore has the capability to overturn sentencing decisions, this rarely happens with the Singapore government maintaining that the death penalty is not a human rights issue.

A petition protesting against Nguyen's sentence has been running at

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Mr. Peter McCrossan serves as staff writer for The Seoul Times. The Irish journalist studied computer science at University College Dublin. Mr. McCrossan covers diplomatic community affairs, travel & hotel industry, and local social issues.






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