Photo: Wayne Taylor
By Steve Butcher
THE mother of a Melbourne man about to hang in Singapore has begged the Australian Government not to give up the fight to save his life.
Kim Nguyen said her heart would stop if Tuong Van Nguyen, 25, was executed on a heroin importation charge.
"He is my heart," Ms Nguyen said. "If something happens to my son, my heart will be stopped."
Ms Nguyen was surrounded by friends and helpers at a packed news conference after returning to Melbourne after visiting her son in Changi Prison.
"I'm asking everyone to please help us … please, the Government of Australia, help us," she said. "I know my son is scared about what is going to happen to him, and it hurts my heart."
Nguyen, of Glen Waverley, will be only the fourth Australian citizen to be executed by a foreign government if his sentence is carried out in Singapore this week.
Sydney barman Michael McAuliffe was hanged in Malaysia in 1993. Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were hanged in Malaysia in 1986.
Mrs Nguyen's plea came as fears grew that the impending execution might damage the two countries' 40-year relationship after Singapore refused pleas from the highest levels of the Australian Government and Labor Opposition to save him.
Nguyen's Melbourne legal team said there was a real risk the ties of friendship and trust would be seriously weakened by Singapore's decision to reject Nguyen's appeal for clemency.
Barristers Lex Lasry, QC, and Julian McMahon described the decision as a "personal rebuff for our leaders", including Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.The Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, and Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, also requested clemency, as did every member of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.
Nguyen was arrested on December 12, 2002, as he approached a flight to Melbourne at Singapore's Changi airport carrying two packages — 396 grams — of heroin.
The Australian citizen, on his first overseas trip, was returning with the heroin for a Sydney syndicate in return for money to pay his twin brother's legal debts. He was sentenced to death last year and later lost an appeal. Nguyen learned on Friday that his application for clemency had been refused by President S. R. Nathan on the advice of the Singapore cabinet. He may now live only another four weeks.
Under Singapore law, death by hanging is mandatory for anyone possessing 15 grams or more of heroin.
Mr Howard said yesterday the Government had tried everything at a political and diplomatic level and he did not think the "prospects of anything changing are realistic".
But Mr Lasry does not share that pessimism and called on Mr Downer to fight on.
"The diplomatic channels are open as long as our client is alive," he said. "There is absolutely no reason why this decision can't be changed.
"I urge the Australian Government to take the view publicly that this young man's life is valuable and is a life that should be saved."
Mr McMahon said Nguyen was entitled to expect clemency under the Singaporean constitution after twice helping the Australian Federal Police to expose the syndicate.
The lawyers said it appeared Singapore had ignored that assistance and Nguyen's rehabilitation in a decision made without satisfactory reason and which was a "bad error of judgement".
Mr Lasry said that if Nguyen was executed "those who will celebrate that event will be the people who he could have implicated in the criminal conspiracy".
Mr McMahon noted it was unknown whether the media and the Australian public "will give the same sort of weight to (Nguyen's) case that you would give if he were a beautifully attractive Anglo Saxon young lady".
Opposition foreign spokesman Kevin Rudd yesterday called on the Singapore cabinet to reconsider clemency.
Mr Downer said last night: "If anybody has any new and constructive ideas, we're happy to look at them. But there is not anything apparent to us. We have done everything we can."