Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Remembering Van Tuong Nguyen

[Please note: long post]

One year ago this Saturday, Singapore hanged 25 year-old Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen.

Van was hanged at 6am in Changi jail on 2 December 2005, six weeks after his appeal for clemency was rejected by the Singapore President.

The Singapore government went ahead with the execution despite repeated appeals for mercy from the Australian government, the intervention of state and federal parliamentarians, an unprecedented level of protest in Australia, appeals from two Popes and protests by a small group of anti-death penalty activists in Singapore.

Singapore is believed to have the highest execution rate in the world, per head of its population.

One year on
Van's mother Kim Nguyen, his twin brother Khoa and his closest friends live with the continuing punishment of his execution.

His mother Kim, an intensely private woman, has spoken out about her anguish in the documentary Just Punishment, which will be aired on Australia's ABC TV on 7 December, from 9.20pm (AEDT).

Kim Nguyen says in the documentary that her son was not like the people who organise the drug trade.

"The people who have millions of money, they are the people who bring drugs . . . they never get killed," she says.

"He is just a stupid boy."

She adds that he was a "gentle" person who was very different to his brother.

His twin brother Khoa, a former heroin addict, says that he blames himself for his brother's death.

"I feel guilty that I did lots of bad things. I feel guilty that I influenced my brother in a bad way to do bad things."

The documentary narrates Van's final entry in his journal before his hanging: "I have reflected about what will take place at 6am and I can only smile, because I know I will be returning to heaven to watch over all those who have touched my life."

Catholic priest Father Peter Norden said he would lead a church service for Van's family and friends on Saturday, after which they would release balloons into the sky "as a sign of hope".

He said no public events were planned.

Van Nguyen's two closest friends, Kelly Ng and Bronwyn Lew, will restage their highly emotive Reach Out campaign in front of the State Library of Victoria on Friday.

During last year's campaign to save Van Nguyen from the gallows, the two women collected traced images of thousands of hands and messages of support from people across Australia.

Ms Ng told AAP they hoped displaying the hands again would remind people that the death penalty should not be used in the 21st century.

"Hopefully they will serve as a reminder to all the people who walk past, that we did lose our friend Van to something that shouldn't have happened," she said.

"The death penalty is something that shouldn't be happening in the 21st century. Van did do something wrong and he does require punishment, but the punishment that was given to him is disproportional to his crime."

She said she hoped her friend's execution would help others facing the same punishment.

"I don't think Van's life was wasted, his life wasn't taken away from him in vain.

"Some good will come of this and hopefully we will be able to help other people who are currently facing the death penalty," Ms Ng said.

A tragic case
Van Nguyen was arrested in Changi airport in December 2002, in transit from Cambodia to Australia, after police found a package of heroin strapped to his back and a second package in his backpack.

In March 2004 he was convicted of importing 396.2 grams of heroin into Singapore and sentenced to death under the country's Misuse of Drugs Act, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin.

Van, who had no prior criminal record, was reportedly carrying the drugs in order to pay off debts owed by his twin brother. He was so naïve that, according to his statement to police, he didn't know how much he would be paid for carrying the drugs.

Related stories:
MP criticises "tragic waste of human life" -- 29 November, 2006
Singapore forum against death penalty -- 21 August 2006
Trade undisturbed by Singapore execution -- 04 July 2006
Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty -- 17 April 2006

Asia death penalty, death penalty, drug trade, drugs, execution, human rights, Nguyen Tuong Van, Singapore, Van Tuong Nguyen


Anonymous said...

Yes how sad it is for those who have been given the death sentence. Sad indeed it is for those who have had their first taste of heroin, who have been enslaved by that poison that will slowly but surely drain the life from them. Sad it is for their loved ones, who will watch the drug-addict take his/her own life. How many mothers have lost sons in this way? Who tells their stories? Who sensationalizes their woes in the media? You see an occasional documentary on drugs but there are too many lives destroyed by drugs to highlight individually. Families pulled asunder by drugs are now just a nameless statistic. If you people are so grieved over one execution, it is good that you do not know the names of the countless many who have been put to death by heroin and other poisons. It is good you that you do not comprehend the enormity of the collective grief drugs have caused. It is good you continue to be blissfully blind.

Asia Death Penalty said...

You write with great feeling about the impact of the drug trade. During the 2005 campaign to save Van Nguyen's life, the most moving conversations I had were with families who had lost loved ones to drugs. They spoke very powerfully about the children they had seen slipping away from them in the grip of heroin, and their continuing pain at their deaths.

That was why they were also passionately committed to finding effective solutions for drugs and drug trafficking, so others should not face what they had been through. They got involved in the Van Nguyen campaign because they saw that hanging him was not going to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets or prevent one person from taking up drugs. It was simply going to add one more death to the toll.

The death penalty does not deter the people behind the drug trade. The 'big fish' are almost never hanged, and if they cared about the lives of their couriers who are caught, they would not be involved in trafficking. Intercepting the drugs does reduce the amount that gets through to the streets, but interception does not need the death penalty to work.