Sunday, 19 November 2006

Another Australian spared in Viet Nam

A fifth Australian national has been spared execution in Viet Nam, rewarding Australian government appeals and its co-operation in joint drug operations.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced this week that the death sentence against Trinh Huu, 53, had been commuted to life imprisonment.

He said Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet commuted Trinh's death sentence following diplomatic representations from the Australian government.

As in previous cases, the Vietnamese government cited humanitarian grounds and their country's good relationship with Australia as reasons for the decision.

Trinh was sentenced to death in December last year for trafficking about 2 kilograms of heroin. He was arrested near the Vietnam-Cambodia border in December 2004.

The Age newspaper reported in February this year that Trinh was arrested by Vietnamese police working with the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Chris Ellison confirmed that Trinh's arrest "was the result of co-operation between Australian and Vietnamese authorities regarding a large drug syndicate".

The AFP has been criticised for its co-operation with Indonesian police, following the April 2005 arrest of a group of Australian citizens known as the "Bali 9". The AFP provided crucial information that led to the monitoring, arrest and prosecution of the group for trying to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin to Australia.

Six members of the Bali 9 have been sentenced to death for drug smuggling offences.

Clemency for foreign nationals
Viet Nam has only executed one foreign national since 1975, when it shot a Canadian woman of Vietnamese origin, Nguyen Thi Hiep, on 25 April 1999.

Five Australians have had their death sentences commuted in Viet Nam since 2003. In all five cases the Australian government made strong representations to the government of Viet Nam appealing for the sentences to be commuted.

In February 2006 President Tran Duc Luong commuted the death sentences of two Australians to life imprisonment, citing "humane tradition" and the good bilateral relationship between Australia and Viet Nam. He spared convicted heroin smugglers Mai Cong Thanh, an Australian citizen, and Nguyen Van Chinh, an Australian permanent resident.

The death sentence against Tran Van Thanh, convicted of heroin trafficking, was commuted to life in prison in August 2005 on the basis of humanitarian grounds and the strong relationship between Viet Nam and Australia.

Le My Linh, a 43-year old Sydney woman, was granted presidential clemency in July 2003 following appeals from the Australian government. The president again cited humanitarian grounds when commuting her sentence to life in prison.

Vietnamese citizens have not been so lucky. According to Amnesty International, there were 21 known executions in 2005 and at least 65 people sentenced to death, but "the real number is believed to be much higher".

Related stories:
World Day call for Australian leadership -- 10 October, 2006
UN: Australia should tackle drugs penalty -- 29 September, 2006
Australia's double standards under pressure -- 13 September, 2006
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Australian police & the firing squad -- 19 February, 2006
To begin, good news in Viet Nam -- 18 February, 2006

death penalty, Vietnam, Viet Nam, human rights, drugs, drug trade

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