A former Thai student sits on death row in a Ho Chi Minh City prison this morning, with her chances of living much longer hanging by a slim thread. A few years ago, Preeyanuch Phuttharaksa was a normal Bangkok university student, caught up in her studies and internet social media. But she made a bad choice when she began smuggling drugs for a Benin-based drug gang. She was caught in Vietnam on her third trafficking trip. She may not deserve leniency, but she also does not deserve to die.
Preeyanuch's last chance to live is an appeal to the mercy of Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. As in most countries, the head of state in Vietnam has the power to award clemency. As in most countries of Southeast Asia, however, neither the people, the government nor the head of state is particularly sympathetic to those on drug charges.
Southeast Asia, including Thailand, imposes the harshest penalties in the world on those caught trafficking illicit drugs. Almost every country retains the death penalty for those convicted. This policy has prevailed since the 1960s, when Singapore and then Malaysia imposed mandatory death penalties for possession of even minute amounts of drugs _ even for personal use. Laws and precise penalties have been refined in the past 50 years, but penalties have seldom been reduced.