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Friday January 26, 11:04 AM
By Koh Gui Qing
SINGAPORE, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Singapore hanged two African men on Friday for drug smuggling after the city-state’s prime minister rejected international clemency pleas, saying its tough stance was necessary to protect Singapore’s interests.
The southeast Asian island-state of 4.4 million has the highest per capita execution rate in the world and has hanged more than 420 people since 1991, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a 21-year-old Nigerian man, and Okeke Nelson Malachy, a 35-year-old stateless man, were hanged at about 6 a.m. (2200 GMT) at Changi Prison, said Stanley Seah, assistant superintendent at Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau.
Tochi was arrested at Singapore’s Changi Airport in November 2004 for carrying about 727 grams (25.6 ounces) of heroin — worth about S$1.5 million ($980,000) — while Malachy was arrested after he was identified by police as the intended recipient of the drugs.
“Mr Tochi’s family will find Singapore’s position difficult to accept, but we have a duty to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans, and protect the many lives that would otherwise be ruined by the drug syndicates,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a letter to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Lee said the amount of heroin that Tochi carried was equivalent to more than 48,000 doses — “enough to have destroyed many lives and families”.
Nigeria’s president earlier this week asked Singapore to grant a reprieve to Tochi, who was a good football player in Nigeria according to human rights group Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign.
Human rights activists had originally expected Malachy to be hanged at a later date.
About 10 activists had gathered had before dawn on Friday to light candles and await the execution hour. A red football jersey was hung on the prison fences to mark Tochi’s love for football.
At 6 a.m., the protesters placed roses before the make-shift memorial and dispersed quietly soon after.
“At least his agony is over now,” said Chee Siok Chin, sister of opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, and a prominent activist.
Singapore does not announce execution dates in advance but hangings are usually carried out at dawn on Fridays.
Tochi’s family had not travelled to Singapore to see him because they could not afford the journey, according to an official at the Nigerian embassy in Singapore.
The death sentence is mandatory for anyone caught carrying more than 15 grams of heroin in Singapore, which enforces one of the harshest anti-drug laws in the world.
The United Nations’ Human Rights Council said on Thursday the hanging violated international legal standards on the use of the death penalty.
Philip Alston, an Australian lawyer who reports to the Council, said death penalties may only be imposed if the evidence “left no room for an alternative interpretation of the facts”.
AFP, Friday January 26, 12:42 PM
Singapore has hanged two convicted African drug traffickers after their appeals for clemency were turned down and despite protests from rights activists.
Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 21, of Nigeria, and 35-year-old Okeke Nelson Malachy, who officials said was stateless, were hanged at Changi prison in the early morning as anti-death penalty campaigners held vigil outside.
“The appeals of both Tochi and Malachy to the Court of Appeal and to the President (S.R. Nathan) for clemency have been turned down. Their sentences were carried out this morning at Changi Prison,” the Central Narcotics Bureau said in a statement.
Activists had been lobbying the government to halt Tochi’s execution, but expressed shock Malachy was also hanged as there had been no word on his case.
“I’m surprised. From what I have heard from… other people, Malachy was not suppose to hang. I was not expecting it,” Chee Siok Chin, a member of Singapore’s anti-death penalty campaign, told AFP.
Tochi was arrested trying to smuggle 727.02 grams (more than 25 ounces) of heroin through Changi Airport in November 2004, while Malachy, who Amnesty International believes was South African, was charged as an accomplice.
Under Singapore’s tough anti-drug laws, the death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.
About 10 activists and sympathisers held a somber overnight vigil outside the prison compound, hanging Tochi’s football shirt on the wall above photographs of him surrounded by candles.
Shortly after 6:00 am (2200 GMT), the time when prisoners are normally hanged, each protester laid a bunch of red roses in front of the photographs.
On the eve of the hanging, the government released a letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“Mr. Tochi has committed a serious offence under Singapore law. He was convicted for importing over 700 grams of diamorphine. This amounts to more than 48,000 doses of heroin on the streets, enough to have destroyed many lives and families,” Lee said.
“There are no new grounds for the case to be reconsidered and all legal avenues have been exhausted.”
Lee said the government “takes a firm stance against drugs to deter Singaporeans and others from importing drugs into Singapore or using the country as a transit hub for narcotics” and has made its position publicly known.
Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 26, 2007
Singapore executed two Africans on drug trafficking charges today despite pleas for clemency by Nigeria’s president, the United Nations and human rights groups.
Nigerian Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 21, was hanged at dawn in the city-state after being convicted of trafficking 727 grams of heroin – nearly 50 times the 15 grams of the drug that draws a mandatory death penalty in Singapore, the Central Narcotics Bureau said in a statement.
A stateless African named Okeke Nelson Malachy, 35, who was convicted as the person to whom Iwuchukwu was supposed to deliver the drugs, was also executed today, the statement said.
About a dozen activists held an overnight vigil outside maximum-security Changi Prison, where the execution was carried out. Just before the hanging, they stood or sat with their heads bowed, holding roses in the flickering glow of candles on the ground around photos of Iwuchukwu and a red-and-white soccer jersey said to belong to him.
Rain began to fall on the silent group.
Prominent Singapore-based art critic Lee Weng Choy, 43, said he disagreed with Singapore’s mandatory death sentence regulation, which he said takes away the discretionary power of the judiciary.
“I also disagree with its justification as a deterrent. The reality is that drug trafficking has not been reduced to zero, neither has drug use,” he said at the vigil.
The execution was carried out despite an appeal by Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who asked Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this week to commute the death sentence.
Lee replied Thursday that Iwuchukwu had committed a serious offence under Singapore law and had exhausted all legal options.
“We did not take the decision lightly,” Lee wrote in a letter. “I realise that Mr Tochi’s family will find Singapore’s position difficult to accept, but we have a duty to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans, and protect the many lives that would otherwise be ruined by the drug syndicates.”
Singapore’s strict drug laws made international headlines – and triggered an outcry in Australia – in December 2005 when the city-state executed a 25-year-old Australian heroin trafficker despite numerous appeals from Canberra.
Human rights group Amnesty International says Singapore has the world’s highest per capita execution rate. Last week it urged its members to push Singapore’s government to grant Iwuchukwu clemency and for a moratorium on all executions in the country.
The United Nations also urged Singapore yesterday not to execute Iwuchukwu because it would violate international legal standards.
Iwuchukwu, a footballer, was arrested in November 2004 at Changi Airport after arriving from Dubai with 100 capsules containing heroin that authorities estimated to be worth 1.5 million Singapore dollars ($A1.25 million).
Iwuchukwu told narcotics officers the pills were African herbs that he was supposed to give to a sick friend. He also told officers that he came to try out for soccer teams playing in the Singapore League.