By Steve Butcher
November 13, 2005
When we were young: Nguyen Tuong Van (right) with his brother Khoa.
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.