[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 29 09:48:42 CST 2005
Singapore Hangman Hopes to Execute Australian
Singapore's chief executioner, who claims he was sacked after speaking to
Australian media, says he hopes still to be called upon to hang a young
Australian man convicted of drug trafficking who is due to die on Friday.
The death sentence on Vietnamese-born Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van, 25,
has strained relations between the two countries.
Darshan Singh, 74, who has carried out hundreds of executions in a career
spanning 48 years, told Reuters on Sunday he had been sacked by the prison
authorities and would not be required for any more executions.
But on Monday, Singapore's prison department said Singh had not been
sacked and was still a contract officer. It did not say who would perform
Singh insists that, with his experience, he can ensure that the condemned
man would be hanged efficiently, whereas an inexperienced hangman could
make mistakes and prolong Nguyen's suffering.
"With me, they (the prisoners) don't struggle. I know the real way. If
it's a raw guy, they will struggle like chickens, like fish out of the
water," Singh told Reuters in an interview on Monday at his spacious
Nguyen was arrested in 2002 while in transit at the city-state's airport,
and sentenced to death for carrying 400 grams (0.9 lb) of heroin.
If his execution goes ahead on Friday, as planned, it will probably follow
Singh's usual routine. The prisoner is weighed a day before the execution,
and hanging takes place at 6 a.m., before the sun has risen. The death is
witnessed by as many as seven people, including the prison superintendent,
a coroner, a doctor and a priest -- but not by the prisoner's family.
In execution by hanging, the person dies when the spinal cord snaps as
they fall through the trapdoor, and not by asphyxiation. The heart usually
stops beating 15 to 20 minutes later.
Only 6 people sentenced to death in Singapore have been spared execution
since 1965, including 2 women convicted of drug trafficking and four men
convicted of murder. Singh said there could be a glimmer of hope for
Nguyen, whom he has not met.
"Maybe they may say at the 11th hour ... they may give him a life
sentence, it's still possible," he said.
Singh, who lives in public housing in a leafy suburb of western Singapore,
casually chatted about the death penalty during the interview,
occasionally breaking off to joke with his wife or play with his
The father of 3 supports the government's anti-drug laws.
"You are talking about the life of 1 drug trafficker. But what about the
thousands who suffer because of the drugs? They become complete failures,
their lives are ruined," he said.
Under Singapore's tough laws, anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of
carrying more than 15 grams (0.5 ounces) of heroin receives a mandatory
Singh, who began his career as a junior prison officer when he was 25,
said Singapore should stick to hanging rather than switching to other
means of execution such as lethal injection.
"With hanging, many of them can still do good by donating their organs.
Part of them will continue to live on. But with lethal injection, none of
their organs can be used," Singh said.
A Sikh who converted to the Muslim faith after marrying a Malay, Singh
said the most difficult part of his job was when he had to hang prisoners
whom he had befriended.
Working as a prison officer with condemned prisoners in the 1960s, Singh
said he developed close relationships with some of them but still had to
perform the deed.
"They became my friends and wanted me to hang them. One of the fellows
even asked me to give him his final haircut."
Activists campaigning against the death penalty in Singapore say that
executions are shrouded in secrecy. There is little public debate and no
opinion polls published to show how Singaporeans feel about the issue.
Amnesty International said in a 2004 report that about 420 people had been
hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving the
island nation of 4.2 million people the highest execution rate in the
world relative to population.
Australia, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has repeatedly pleaded
for clemency for Nguyen on the grounds that he had cooperated with the
authorities and could serve as a witness in future drug cases.
But Singapore has rejected all appeals, saying Nguyen had been caught with
enough heroin for 26,000 doses and that Singapore must not be used as a
transit for illicit drugs.
Murderers and drug-traffickers deserve to die, Singh said, and their
punishment is a means of "complete rehabilitation."
"I'm changing their character to a different one because I believe in
rebirth and they will be better men next time."
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