1994: Johannes van Damme, heroin smuggler

9 comments September 23rd, 2008 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1994, Dutch citizen Johannes van Damme was hanged at Singapore’s Changi Prison for drug trafficking.

The first westerner hanged under Singapore’s draconian anti-drug law, the engineer had been nabbed at the airport with 4.32 kilos of heroin.

Van Damme, 59 at his death, claimed ignorance of the illicit contents and his case drew appeals from the Dutch government — to no avail.

The city-state’s severe criminal code and comprehensively ordered society — “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” in cyberpunk author William Gibson’s formulation — is somewhat notorious at this point.

But while foreign migrants and guest workers had regularly faced the gallows for similar offenses, van Damme’s hanging marked a significant ramping-up of enforcement. According to Amnesty International, Singapore carried out 54 drug-related hangings in 1994 and another 52 in 1995, after an early-90′s pace of under ten per year. It’s maintained rates in the dozens of executions per annum since then, making it the heaviest per-capita user of the death penalty in the world.

And it doesn’t mind making its visitors sweat about it.

Welcome to Singapore. You’ll also see the warning on your embarkation card.

An intensified pace perhaps came with a new resolve on the part of the former British colony to forswear juridical perks to European offenders — at least to some extent. Van Damme’s fate makes an interesting contrast with that of his countrywoman, Maria Krol-Hmelak (the link is to her scanty Dutch Wikipedia page). Krol-Hmelak had been arrested a few months before van Damme also for possessing enough heroin to be presumed a smuggler and incur an automatic death sentence; at her trial a few months after van Damme’s, she received a surprise acquittal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Netherlands,Singapore

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