25 Feb 2005
Remember Nguyen Tuong Van?
I just stumbled across your blog and I thought you maybe interested in the following article. Feel free to use it as you feel is appropriate.
Remember Nguyen Tuong Van?
By Gary Meyerhoff, 25th February 2005
Days to execution: Unknown
As far as I know, 24-year-old Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van is still in a cell at Singapore’s Changi Prison facing execution. He will be given less than 24 hours notice of his hanging; and we won’t be told until it is done. The Australian Government and our media are failing him miserably. After ten months on death row, Nguyen Tuong Van should be a household name.
I remember back when I was eleven years old. I was at a friend’s place and like most Australian homes the television was blaring constantly in the background. I vividly remember stopping to watch a report that Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers had been executed and I remember a horrible feeling as I tried to make sense of what had just happened.
Barlow and Chambers were hanged in Malaysia on July 07, 1986 for the alleged trafficking of 141.9 grams of heroin. Back then, I didn’t really know what heroin was, but I knew who Barlow and Chambers were.
The Australian media lapped up the Barlow and Chambers case, using it to sell more and more newspapers and to increase the ratings on their news and current affairs
programs. Australia’s press gallery went into a frenzy in an attempt to save the men.
For political reasons, this media pressure backfired. Rajendran Kuppusamy, the Malaysian hangman who performed the executions, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper in 1996 that the case was rushed through the Malaysian legal system.
"The Attorney-General wanted us to make it fast, he didn't want to delay the case," said Kuppusamy. "It was really fast because they were getting pressure from all over."
Facing an election, Malaysian President Dr Mahathir Mohamad was under immense pressure to show that he was the man prepared to stand-up against the West - against White people.
Once the executions had happened the Australian news barons dropped the story as quickly as the two young Australians had dropped through the trapdoor in Pudu Prison.
The journalists returned to their usual mundanereporting and the issue was dead. They might havefailed to prevent the executions, and possibly even contributed to the executions being rushed, but Australia’s press gallery had succeeded in imprinting the names Barlow and Chambers firmly in the Australian psyche.
Almost twenty years after the deaths of Barlow and Chambers, Nguyen Tuong Van, on his first trip overseas from Australia, was arrested at Singapore airport. Police alleged that Nguyen was in possession of 400g of heroin. A Singapore court sentenced him to death for this crime in March 2004.
In stark contrast to events in 1986, Nguyen Tuong Van has been virtually ignored by the Australian Government and the media. Michael Fay, the white American kid who damaged a car or two and was flogged by the Singapore Government with the rattan cane, received more attention from the Australian media than this young Aussie from Melbourne. Nguyen Tuong Van is definitely not a household name!
Why are the media ignoring Nguyen? Is it because they can’t pronounce his name or is the real reason a little more insidious than that? I mean, Schapelle Corby doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and she has been turned into a media celebrity, not to mention the millionaire Aussie yachtsman Chris Packer, recently released from an Indonesian jail after serving three months for failing to declare firearms.
I don’t want to take away from the seriousness of Schapelle’s situation. This young woman may also face the death penalty if she is found guilty of her alleged crime. Her trial has even been invaded by an Indonesian anti-drugs group demanding her execution.
With regards to media reporting though, there is obviously some sort of double standard happening.
Brian Chambers, Kevin Barlow, Schapelle Corby and Chris Packer all have one thing in common. They are all white Australians. Nguyen Tuong Van’s crime is that he is an Australian of Vietnamese origin. Australia’s predominantly white journalists (and our
white Prime Minister) have written him off as just another Viet boy dealing smack, just like they write off the residents of the Block in Redfern and Cabramatta in Sydney.
Like Singapore’s judiciary, they ignore Nguyen’s claims that he was only carrying the drugs in a desperate bid to pay off legal fees owed by his twin brother to a Sydney-based drugs syndicate. During a recent visit to Singapore, Australian Prime
Minister John Howard held a meeting with his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong where he put forward a half-hearted request for clemency. Mr Howard told the Melbourne Age; "I believe there's a very good case for clemency but people must understand that the laws of Singapore are well known and I think we'll leave it at
that." Responding to the Age reporters question on whether the execution of Nguyen would have an impact on bilateral relations between the two countries, Howard said: "Look, I think we have to keep a balance here." What he is saying is that Australia’s military relationship with Singapore is worth more to us economically than Nguyen Tuong Van. The Republic of Singapore Air Force has aircraft and personnel
permanently stationed at the Pearce air force base north of Perth and Singaporean fighter jets and naval vessels are regularly in and out of the Northern Australian city of Darwin. Australian military personnel provide ongoing training to Singapore’s
soldiers, sailors and airmen and Australian naval vessels are often in Singapore undergoing repairs that would cost ten times as much back home. Our military alliance and the subsequent boost to the Australian economy is not the only reason Howard is dragging his feet on this case. Singapore isn’t in the midst of an election and there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure from Singaporeans for Nguyen to be put to death. Sadly it looks like race is a factor in Howard’s laissez faire approach to Nguyen’s pending execution. Surely little Johnny wouldn’t let a white
boy hang so easily? If Nguyen was called Barry and he was from Vaucluse or Sydney’s North Shore, Howard would be doing everything in his power to stop the hanging. The Australian Prime Minister is acutely aware that the island nation has executed more than four hundred people since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving Singapore the dubious distinction of having the highest execution rate in the world relative to
population. If Nguyen hangs, Howard will have the dubious distinction of being the Prime Minister who sat by while a young Australian went to the gallows, just like he sat by while 353 asylum seekers drowned in the SievX disaster. Nguyen awaits the results of John Howard’s request for clemency. We can only hope and pray that 81-year-old Singaporean President, Sellapan Ramanathan Nathan, will find it in his heart to call off the execution. In the meantime, you might want to contact your localmedia and ask them one question; do they rememberNguyen Tuong Van?
As for Schapelle, we train Indonesia’s troops too. This could be a sticky one for the Australian PrimeMinister. Let’s just hope that she gets a fair trial and that some sanity prevails in Bali.
Gary Meyerhoff is a freelance journalist and an active member of the Darwin-based drug law-reform group the Network Against Prohibition (http://www.napnt.org).
This article was published in the NAPNT email digeston the 25th of February 2005. If you would like toreceive the full NAP newsletter you can subscribe to the NAPNT yahoogroup at the following link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/napnt.
More resources on Nguyen Tuong Van:
A plea to Singapore President
Article on Barlow and Chambers
Singapore upholds death penalty for Australian
Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty
Wikipedia article on Singapore’s President Sellapan
Wikipedia article on Singapore
For more info on SievX seehttp://sievx.com/
This article on the NAP website (with some more media