Cases: Le Manh Luong (Vietnam)
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Luong is set to be executed
Le Manh Luong was born in Vietnam in 1960 and is one of ten children. In 1980 he fled the Vietnamese communist regime for Hong Kong, travelling on to the UK in 1983. He became a British citizen and began working as a car mechanic in South London. He has two British sons who, as well as his extended family, still live in South East London. He travelled to Vietnam in 2004.

Background to the case

Mr Luong was arrested on 25 June 2004 at the Cha Lo border between Vietnam and Laos. He was charged and convicted of trafficking 78 cakes (27.3 kg) of heroin, illegally buying and selling a pistol and bullets and forgery of identity documents. Luong was convicted along with Tran Thi Hien (also a British citizen sentenced to life imprisonment), four Vietnamese and two Laotians. In total, the authorities confiscated 199 cakes (65 kg) of heroin with a street value of £3.9 million.

On 25 November 2006, Luong was sentenced to death by the People’s Court, Quang Binh Province. The British Embassy were contacted a month after Luong was arrested and, together with Reprieve, have provided information and support to him and his family.

Medical History

During the Vietnam War, Luong lived in Hai Phong, which was subject to regular bombing raids by the American air force. On the morning of 29 August 1967, when Luong was 7 years old, a B52 bomber dropped a bomb on his house killing two of his brothers and causing serious brain injury to Luong. According to records and statements from Luong’s family, Luong required extensive surgery on his brain and remained in hospital for two years.

Luong’s father, based in New Zealand, informed Marc Callcutt of Reprieve, that after spending two years in hospital, Luong was sent home. His father described his behaviour as erratic. Sometimes he would be well, but other times he was depressed, withdrawn and “dozy”. When he was feeling well, he worked incredibly hard, driving a taxi in his home town. However, he could become extremely depressed and would descend into a fog of despair.

His niece, Thanh Le, who lives in Kidbrooke, Southeast London, travelled to the trial which took place from 21 to 25 November 2006. Thanh Le informed Reprieve that Luong did not recognise any of his family members and that she believed that his detention and trial had mentally “pushed him over the edge”.

The trial

The trial, which lasted five days, took place in Quang Binh Provincial Court in the seaside town of Dong Hoi, 580 km south of Hanoi. There are no jury trials in Vietnam and the judges, who sat next to the prosecutors, led the interrogation of the defendants.

Those who attended the trial reported that far from being considered, the medical evidence submitted by Luong’s lawyer, was totally ignored. Prior to the trial, Luong was evaluated for the purposes of assessing whether he was fit to stand trial. However, the state appointed doctors did not permit the British Embassy access to the full report. Instead only the two page conclusion was made available. The report concluded that Luong had mental problems, but did not specify what they were.

It was reported that during his trial, Luong seemed unable to follow the proceedings and was heard asking questions like, “what is heroin?” and “what is a weapon?” Instead of considering the medical implications of this, the judges openly laughed at him.

Luong’s father has visited him in jail. He informed Marc Callcutt of Reprieve that Luong was constantly in tears, pleading with his father to “save him”. His father reported that his wrists and ankles were shackled and that these shackles cut his skin and caused swelling.

Legal appeal

Luong’s appeal to the Vietnamese Supreme Court, was scheduled for 7 February 2007, but was postponed after the lawyer who represents Mr. Luong and another co-defendant was unable to appear in court to conduct their defence.

The appeal hearing is expected to last just one day with the verdict being handed down immediately following the hearing. Should this appeal fail, Luong’s only remaining option is an application for clemency to the Vietnamese President, Nguyen Minh Triet. Luong will only have 7 days to apply for clemency.

Brain-damaged Briton needs Blair plea to save him from firing squad
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor

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Luong is set to be executed
A personal appeal by Tony Blair is the last hope for a brain-damaged British man who faces death by firing squad after being convicted of drug smuggling in Vietnam.

Le Manh Luong, 46, a British citizen of Vietnamese origin, could be executed in the next few weeks after losing his final appeal against a death sentence imposed last November for heroin smuggling. He can be saved only if the Vietnamese President, Nguyen Minh Triet, grants him clemency.

According to Reprieve, a British organisation that helps with the defence of death row inmates, such pleas are rarely granted to condemned foreign convicts without the personal intervention of a head of government. Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, has made a request for clemency but there has so far been no word on the case from Mr Blair.

Mr Luong’s relatives in Britain and New Zealand insist that he has been easily manipulated by others since sustaining brain damage as a child during the Vietnam War. A report from a British psychiatrist concludes that his ability to make good decisions has been impaired by the head injury.

“Normally the Prime Minister waits until the 11th hour to intervene,” says Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director and founder of Reprieve. “That is not an option in this case — in Vietnam they do not give execution dates, and so there is no way to tell when the 11th hour is. Without Mr Blair’s personal representations to the President of Vietnam we are faced with the real danger of Luong being executed. It would be a terrible stain on Tony Blair’s legacy to see this man executed because he failed to act.”

In 1967 Mr Luong’s family home in the city of Haiphong was hit by an American bomb that caused him brain damage and killed two of his brothers. “He fades in and out,” said his British niece, Thanh Le. “He tends to wander off and fall asleep sometimes. He suffers from chronic depression and he’s taken medication.

“If he is guilty it’s because he is a simple, naïve man who has always been easily led. I think he was led astray without knowing the implications of what he was doing.” In a report for Reprieve, Jon Kennedy, a forensic psychiatrist, wrote that there was evidence that Mr Luong was “suffering from a mental disorder . . .which would have directly impacted on his capacity to make good decisions”.

Mr Luong fled Vietnam as one of the so-called “boat people” in 1980. He became a British citizen three years later and worked in London as a car mechanic. He was arrested in Vietnam in 2004 with seven other people and charged with taking part in a huge smuggling operation that transported heroin out of Laos concealed in motorbike parts to be sold throughout Vietnam, Hong Kong and China. He was also found guilty of illegal possession of a gun and forging identity documents.

Throughout the five-day trial in Dong Hoi last November Mr Luong gave little sign of understanding the significance of the proceedings. When questioned in detail about the 33-page indictment, he answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”. “What is heroin?” he asked the judge at one point, and “What is a weapon?”

Four of his co-defendants were also sentenced to death.

Only one other citizen of a Western country has been executed in Vietnam — a Canadian woman, Nguyen Thi Hiep, who was shot in 1999 without any notice to her family or the Canadian Government. The case provoked fury in Ottawa, where the Government was accused of incompetence.

If Mr Luong’s clemency plea fails, he will be the first Briton to be executed outside the United States during Mr Blair’s period in office.

“Commutations are not that uncommon in Vietnam,” said Mr Stafford Smith. “We have seen several Australians have their death sentences commuted by the Vietnamese President - however, this has only been after the direct involvement of the Prime Minister, John Howard. We are asking that Tony Blair make this same commitment, and speak directly to the Vietnamese President to ensure we avoid a terrible tragedy.”

Ms Thanh Le said: “My uncle is an incredibly funny and caring man, and a wonderful uncle. To think that after surviving the US bombing raids during the Vietnam War and struggling to create a new life for himself in London, he now faces losing his life to a firing squad is unbearable."

British dead

2003 Jackie Elliott dies by lethal injection in Texas for rape and murder committed in 1986, in most recent known execution of a British prisoner abroad

2002 Tracey Housel executed in Georgia, USA, by lethal injection for a murder committed during a two-month killing spree in 1985

1996 Serial killer John Martin Scripps hanged in Singapore for murdering tourists for their cash and credit cards

1995 Nicholas Ingram killed by electric chair in Georgia, USA, after being on death row since 1983 for murder committed during a robbery

1989 Derek Gregory executed in Malaysia several years after being caught in possession of 20oz (560g) of heroin in Penang

1986 Kevin Barlow and Australian Brian Chambers hanged in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for drug trafficking

Source: Times archives

Last Chance On Death Row

Luong is set to be executed
A mentally ill Briton will be executed by firing squad in Vietnam if a last plea for clemency is rejected. Le Manh Luong, 46, has been on death row since November 2006, after being convicted of drug trafficking.

UK charity Reprieve, which campaigns for people facing the death penalty, is calling for Prime Minister Tony Blair to appeal to the President of Vietnam.

Luong, a British citizen, was brain damaged by a B52 American bomber during the Vietnam War.

Reprieve has suggested he may not have been fit to stand trial and that medical evidence on his condition was ignored.

His one and only appeal was rejected by the Vietnamese Supreme Court last Friday.

This means a petition for Presidential clemency is Luong's last chance - he could be killed within a matter of days otherwise.

No execution date will be set and his family will not be given notice of what is happening.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve legal director said: "Normally the Prime Minister waits until the 11th hour to intervene.

"That is not an option in this case - in Vietnam they do not give execution dates, and so there is no way to tell when the 11th hour is."

Luong left Vietnam as one of the 'boat people' arriving in Hong Kong in 1980.

The father-of-two then moved to London in 1983.

He was arrested in 2004 while on a trip to his home country.

Luong was convicted of trafficking 78 cakes (27.3 kg) of heroin, illegally buying and selling a pistol and bullets and forgery of identity documents.
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