Vietnam grants clemency to Australian on death row

August 23, 2005 - 2:55PM

Forty-year-old Australian citizen Tran Van Thanh has had his death penalty in Vietnam commuted to a life sentence.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Vietnamese president Tran Duc Luong had granted clemency to Tran on humanitarian grounds and because of the good relations between the two countries.

Tran was sentenced to death in November last year for illegal trading of heroin, Mr Downer said.

Tran is originally from Sydney, a spokeswoman from the Department of Foreign and Affairs and Trade said.

According to the NSW Council for Civil Liberties website, Tran was convicted of trafficking 682g of heroin.

The website names Nguyen Van Chinh and Mai Cong Thanh as two other Australians facing the death penalty in Vietnam over drugs charges.

In a statement today, Mr Downer said he welcomed the decision by the Vietnamese president, made after appeals by the Australian government including Prime Minister John Howard.

"We acknowledge the serious nature of this crime and we respect the right of other countries to enforce the law for crimes committed within their jurisdictions,'' he said.

The foreign minister reminded Australians abroad that they are subject to overseas laws.

The reprieve for Tran comes as the spotlight falls on a growing number of Australians being arrested in Indonesia on drugs offences.

Twenty-year-old Adelaide man Graham Clifford Payne, who lives in Sumatra, is being held for questioning after police found what Mr Downer described as a "broad array'' of illicit drugs.

His case follows that of Australian model Michelle Leslie, 24, who is protesting her innocence after police found two tablets, which they believe to be ecstasy, in her bag.

"A number of recent arrests of Australians on suspicion of drug-related offences should serve as a strong reminder to all Australians travelling overseas of the seriousness of such offences,'' Mr Downer said.

"But where Australians face the death penalty overseas, we will support clemency and we are pleased that the Vietnamese government has taken our views into account in reaching this decision.''

Mr Downer said the government was taking a close interest in the cases of the two other Australians on death row in Vietnam.

"I have recently written to my Vietnamese counterpart supporting clemency for an Australian permanent resident and I will shortly be writing to support clemency for another Australian recently sentenced to death,'' he said.

- AAP