Inside Story: From ABC correspondent to Singapore prisoner #12988
by Peter Lloyd
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 296 pp
Few who saw them will forget the grainy newspaper images of Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers. Despite high-level diplomatic pleas from the Australian government, they were hanged at Pudu jail in Kuala Lumpur in July 1986 for possessing 180 grams of heroin. In the post-execution mêlée, their bodies were concealed by blankets, but one foot was casually left uncovered. The poignancy of those toes was heart-rending, their vulnerability encapsulating the brutal and ruthless efficiency of law in that region of South-East Asia.
Eight years later and 370 kilometres away, Dutchman Johannes Van Damme was the first Westerner hanged at Singapore’s notorious Changi prison under the island republic’s ‘no leniency’ laws for drug trafficking. This was just months after American teenager Michael Fay received four lashes with a rattan cane for graffiti crimes, despite Bill Clinton’s pleadings for the sentence to be rescinded. In 2005, Australian drug smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged at Changi, another in a shamefully long list of people killed by a secretive and intractable régime that had, by Amnesty International estimates, executed more than 400 people alone between 1991 and 2003.