13 Nov 2005

Twins - one on death row, other in despair

By Steve Butcher
November 13, 2005

When we were young: Nguyen Tuong Van (right) with his brother Khoa.
Photo: AAP

THE LITTLE twins smile happily for the camera, their young lives filled with endless possibilities.

Today one of them sits on death row, the other is in hiding — filled with despair over the loving brother whose life looks certain to be cut short on the gallows in Singapore.

The image of Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, and his brother, Khoa, was released by lawyers for Nguyen, who are fighting to save his life.

Nguyen was arrested in Singapore in 2002 carrying 396 grams of heroin. He told police he was acting as a courier for a Sydney drug syndicate to earn money to pay for his brother's legal debts.

Few people know where Khoa is today, but those who know him say he is devastated. The pair had been inseparable since arriving in Australia with their mother when they were four months old.

Nguyen's application for clemency was refused by Singapore's President S.R. Nathan on October 21. But friends and supporters have not given up hope.

Yesterday, supporters of the Reach Out campaign, set up by friends of Nguyen, gathered in Melbourne to sort through the thousands of letters of support.

Nguyen's tireless friends Kelly Ng and Bronwyn Lew had invited Australians to trace their hands on coloured paper, with the tracings to be sent to Mr Nathan.

The idea was inspired by the traced outline of Nguyen's hand, that he sent to his mother from Changi Prison. During hours of sorting yesterday in the chambers of Nguyen's lawyer, Julian McMahon, touching and surprising messages were revealed.

A boy from the Perth suburb of Morley wrote on his hand: "My name if Marcus and I am five. My mum told me that Nguyen's mum might not cuddle him again and that makes me sad. This is a good way for me to help."

A mother whose son's life "has been ruined because of heroin" pleaded for Nguyen's life. Another woman told how 10 years ago she lost her teenage son in a car accident. "My life ended on the same day," she tells Mr Nathan. "Please don't send Nguyen Tuong Van to the gallows. No mother on earth deserves to go through such pain. Please pardon him. I beg you in the name of my dead son."

There were a dozen traced hands belonging to inmates from the Dillwynia Women's Correctional Centre in NSW — "hope this reaches you in time" — and letters from universities, hospitals, schools, day-care centres, as well as from members of the armed forces and the son of a former royal commissioner.


Anonymous said...

This report raises more questions than it throws light on. Why one twin isn't in the public eye pleading for his brother's life, despite the fact that execution could be imminent, is one such question. To say that the brother is in "despair", and that's why he is in hiding, is about as poor an excuse that I've ever encountered. It is a pitiful excuse. I knew right from the start that this case wasn't as straight forward as was being made out to be.

pleinelune said...

Obviously because he is still wanted by the mob. You have to remember that Nguyen failed in delivering the drugs, and revealed many names. Now, if his brother shows his face, the mob will obviously take revenge on him, since Nguyen is behind bars.

Anonymous said...

As a courier ("mule"), he would have been given the barest of info: that much seemed to have come through from the reports I read. The mother however is in the public eye. But we have to guess about other relatives, like perhaps a sister or maybe he doesn't have a sister, and also wasn't the brother, Khoa, involved in drug offences himself that resulted in the initial legal and other debts and which was mentioned in passing in the media reports? You see this is precisely the point, we have to engage in all this guesswork because the media reports out of Australia are merely highlighting the human interest dimension of this case that generates public sympathy. Someone spoke about the need for transparency over the serious matter of life and death: by all means let's have transparency, but all round, please. I wonder how many would still be supporting Van Nguyen if the full facts of this case -- where a mixed picture emerges -- were to come out?

clyde said...

Again, it completely depends on your reasons for wanting clemency for Nguyen. To abolish the death penalty, or to save a mere middleman. The former is unconditional of any good or bad light shone on him.

Anonymous said...

I guess most people would, at the very outset, not have any firm views one way or the other, but would be open-minded enough to be persuaded in the market place of ideas. If it's a restricted market then maybe people might later on feel, as other "ideas" come to light, that they were sold a bum steer. I can quite accept if an outfit such as Reporters Without Borders says that the market place of ideas in Singapore is severely restricted and lays the blame squarely at the door of the local media. But it would also appear that the media downunder has, in its wisdom, decided that information underload is the best way forward in this particular case. That of course is its prerogative, as it has apparently decided for everyone else that its stand is correct.

about-in-bris said...

One Aussie man en route to London via Changi told me he respects the laws in S'pore however different his views are. He also said the Australian gov't hasn't done its part in curbing drugs, and should also take part of the blame if Nguyen is to be hanged.

Anonymous said...

Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
The Advertiser

November 14, 2005 Monday


LENGTH: 74 words

HEADLINE: Plea for clemency

THE Uniting Church has written to the Prime Minister of Singapore seeking clemency for Australian Nguyen Tuong Van who faces the death penalty for smuggling drugs.

The letter follows a five-day meeting of church leaders in Adelaide and asks Singaporean authorities to "exercise compassion and commute Nguyen Tuong Van's sentence".

The letter also was sent to the Singapore High Commission in Australia and the Prime Minister, Mr Howard.

Anonymous said...

Just for one moment let us assume that clemency was granted and the sentence was commuted to life in imprisonment. My question is: Is life in imprisonment in the Singapore context actually as it connotes -- the duration of a person's life, or is it more in-line with what is undertood in the Western context, that is 30 years (with or without the possibility of parole)? I read one Australian lawyer speak about commutation to life, but then immediately said Nguyen should be released after 30 years. I also read an Australian pariliamentarian say that clemency should be given and that this "silly boy" should be returned to his mother. This seems to be the fairyland attitude which some people elsewhere appear to hold. And, assuming there is a commutation in sentence, considering the support campaign for this particular condemned man, it wouldn't surprise me if in 3-6 months time attempts were made for a prisoner transfer to Australia... Would there be any end to this saga? If those behind this campaign, including the Australian government, are really serious about their afforts then they should state concretely and categorically in writing, as an ironclad undertaking, that in any commutation, they would accept that life in imprisonment would indeed be life. To date I've not read of any such undertaking.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Life imprisonment in Singapore literally means imprisonment for life. Not 20 years, or 30 years.

There used to be some ambiguity, but a firm, clear decision has been made by the courts on this point (I think this was somewhere around 1997 or 1998) -

and since then, life means life.

Anonymous said...

Why are they standing near a wired fence? Are they inside some detention camp?