With less than 48 hours to go before Nguyen Tuong Van's execution at Changi Prison, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Singapore's envoy to Australia have made it clear the execution of the former south Vietnamese refugee would go ahead.

Lee, currently in Europe, told French newspaper Le Figaro that the death penalty "is necessary and is part of the criminal justice system", rejecting claims that executing people for non-violent crimes is out of date and inhuman.

"We also think that drug trafficking is a crime that deserves the death penalty. The evil inflicted on thousands of people with drug trafficking demands that we must tackle the source by punishing the traffickers rather than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards," he said.

"It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem," the son of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said before calling on French President Jacques Chirac.

"It's a law which is approved of by Singapore's inhabitants and which allows us to reduce the drug problem"

Lee Hsien Loong,
Singapore prime minister

Some private groups and opposition politicians in Australia have called for sanctions against Singapore, but Prime Minister John Howard has adopted a more restrained approach and sought clemency for Nguyen.

Singapore's high commissioner in Canberra, Joseph Koh, in an opinion piece published on Wednesday in Australian newspapers, dismissed what he said were "fictions" about the Nguyen case.

Supporters of the Vietnamese-born man, who said he agreed to be a drug mule to help pay off his twin brother's debts, say mitigating circumstances including his cooperation with investigators justified commuting his death sentence to a prison term.

But Koh said: "The information that Mr Nguyen provided to the Singapore authorities was of limited value, and was, in fact, intended to mislead and delay the investigation."

Arrest

Nguyen was arrested at Changi Airport - near the prison where he will be hanged - three years ago carrying 396 grams of heroin strapped to his back from Cambodia to Australia.

Singapore officials say the amount is enough to supply drug abusers 26,000 doses.

"Contrary to assertions, the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect in relation to drugs or other serious crimes"

Timothy Parritt,
Amnesty International

In Singapore, possession of more than 15g of heroin is deemed as trafficking and punishable by a mandatory death sentence.

Amnesty International says Singapore has the world's highest execution rate relative to its population of just 4.2 million, including resident foreigners.

About 420 prisoners were sent to the gallows between 1991 and 2004, Amnesty said.

Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry says 66 Singaporeans and 22 foreigners have been executed between 2001 and September 2005.

Timothy Parritt, a researcher for Amnesty's Southeast Asia team, said the watchdog was "unaware of any scientific studies" showing the death penalty was a greater deterrent than other forms of punishment.

"Contrary to assertions, the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect in relation to drugs or other serious crimes. The certainty of arrest, prosecution and the prospect of long periods of imprisonment form the basis of effective deterrence," he said.

Parritt added that Amnesty regarded the death penalty "as the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights" and stressed that "no criminal justice system is immune from error, and the risk of miscarriages of justice can never be excluded".

The planned execution has
sparked protests in Australia

Meanwhile, envoy Koh also dismissed allegations that Singapore's drug policies were hypocritical because it backs military-ruled Myanmar, a major heroin producer.

The charges were "an old falsehood" propagated by a Singapore opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, he said, adding that the city-state's investments in Myanmar are "straightforward" commercial transactions.

He said the Singapore cabinet deliberated at length on Nguyen's clemency petition and considered all relevant factors but decided not to treat him differently.

"We are all touched by the pain and anguish of Mr Nguyen's mother, but if we waver in our firm position against drug trafficking, many more families will be shattered," he added.