The Singaporean envoy to Australia lashed out at one of the country's leading newspapers Wednesday on the sensitive issue of an Australian drug trafficker scheduled to be hanged in Singapore this week. High Commissioner Joseph Koh accused The Age broadsheet of a "petty maneuver" in its choice of a headline carried over an opinion piece he wrote about the case of Nguyen Tuong Van. The newspaper based in Nguyen's hometown of Melbourne used the headline: "Why Nguyen Must Die."
Koh said he had titled his article "Separating Fact from Fiction" and had been assured by the newspaper that the article would be published in full.
"By attributing the insensitive headline to me, The Age is hitting below the belt," Koh said in a statement. "This is a petty maneuver." Neither editor Andrew Jaspan nor his deputy Simon Mann were available for comment.
Australian National University international relations expert Michael McKinley said Koh's reaction revealed the depth of sensitivity the Singaporean government felt toward criticism over its refusal to grant the 25-year-old clemency.
Nguyen is scheduled to go to the gallows Friday after he was caught in 2002 at Singapore airport on his way home to Melbourne carrying nearly 400 grams (14 ounces) of heroin.
"The high commissioner wouldn't have written the article unless he had cleared it at home all the way up to the prime minister," McKinley said.
"They're now feeling under pressure and they feel that their public relations effort in Australia is being severely undermined by this event," he said.
"Singapore's never been accused of having a free press and they wouldn't be the first Southeast Asian country to think that they're getting a hard time from the Australian press," he added.
Members of the Transport Workers Union were meeting Wednesday in Melbourne to decide whether they will wage an industrial campaign against Singapore Airlines to protest the scheduled execution. Their options include restrictions on baggage handling and refueling. But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged the unionists against sanctions. "It's a pointless thing to do," Downer told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
"I think they should, you know, get on with their job and protect the interests of their members as the unions do but not start straying into international politics," he added. McKinley predicted the fallout between the two free trading partners would be short lived and that economic relations will become closer.
Koh's article identified as one of the "fictions" in Nguyen's case is the claim that Nguyen had helped Singaporean and Australian authorities investigate drug syndicates since his arrest, reports the AP. I.L.