A respected former Australian prime minister branded Singapore a "rogue Chinese port city" in an interview published Friday as political debate raged on how to save the life of a young drug smuggler condemned to hang in the city-state.
Gough Whitlam, Labor prime minister in the early 1970s, made his comment about Singapore for turning down repeated pleas for clemency for 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, who is scheduled to go to the gallows Dec. 2 after being convicted of trafficking 400 grams (14.11 ounces) of heroin in 2002.
Whitlam urged Prime Minister John Howard to use the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta to plead again for Van Nguyen's life.
"If CHOGM is of any use then it should be raised there, because it concerns many other countries some larger, some smaller than the rogue Chinese port city," he told Melbourne broadsheet The Age.
Howard has said he will not attempt to marshal international support in Malta for his clemency pleas, saying the move would likely harden Singapore's resolve to execute Van Nguyen.
A senior lawmaker from Van Nguyen's home state, Victoria, visited Singapore's senior minister of state for law and home affairs on Thursday in a last ditch appeal for mercy, but came away empty handed and critical of the city-state's punishment regime.
"This is a modern country, there's no doubt about that. But it seems to me that the punishments that it's meting out, whether the death penalty or caning people, don't belong to a 21st century justice system," Victoria state Attorney General Rob Hulls, said after the meeting.
A statement issued by Singapore's Law Ministry appeared to slam the door on any hope it will allow Van Nguyen to live.
"Nguyen had committed a very serious offense under our laws," the statement said. "Singapore had a multi-pronged approach to combating the scourge of drug addiction and one component of our approach was the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers, who were in fact the source of the drugs that ruined the lives of addicts", reported AP. P.T.
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