Saturday, 18 February 2006

To begin, good news in Viet Nam

Two Australians on death row in Viet Nam have been spared the firing squad. The two death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by the Vietnamese President, Tran Duc Luong, who cited "humane tradition" and the good bilateral relationship between Australia and Viet Nam.

Mai Cong Thanh, 46, and Nguyen Van Chinh, 45, were granted clemency following lobbying by the Australian government. One is an Australian citizen and the other an Australian permanent resident.

Mai Cong Thanh was sentenced to death in June 2005 for conspiring with two other Australian nationals to traffic 1.7kgs of heroin to Australia in loudspeakers. Nguyen Van Chinh was condemned in April 2005 for trafficking 1050 grams of heroin. Both had been sentenced to death after trials lasting one day.

After China, Viet Nam has one of the highest execution rates in Asia. Amnesty International reported that at least 64 people, four of them women, were executed in Viet Nam in 2004. At least 88 were sentenced to death, about half for drug offences. Viet Nam's death penalty system is notoriously secretive, so the true figures were believed to be much higher.

Four days ago, two other Australians were sentenced to death in Indonesia for leading the so-called "Bali 9", who attempted to smuggle heroin to Australia. Andrew Chan, 22, and Myuran Sukumaran, 24 have a number of legal avenues for appeal.

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