3 Dec 2005

End death penalty: Singapore nun

From The Age

By Steve Butcher, Singapore
December 4, 2005

A SENIOR Singapore nun has taken the dramatic step of calling on her Government to drop the death penalty, following the execution of Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van.

In a move that may anger Singapore's leaders, Sister Susan Chia, province leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters, described the death penalty as cruel and inhumane. It violated the right to life, she said.

It has been nuns from the Marymount Convent, part of Sister Chia's constituency, who have cared and comforted Nguyen's mother and twin brother here for the two weeks before Friday's hanging.

Singapore, which has always been sensitive to internal criticism, enforces the mandatory death penalty for serious crimes, including the heroin offence Nguyen committed in 2002.

Sister Susan Chia appealed in the carefully worded statement, issued yesterday by Nguyen's lead lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, for "our leaders" to seek alternatives to the death penalty.

She said in the opening line that the Good Shepherd Sisters shared the "deep sorrow" his mother, Kim Nguyen, and twin brother, Khoa, felt at his execution.

The statement continued: "As we try desperately to soften a mother's pain at the loss of her son, we grapple with the reality of the death penalty.

"The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life.

"Each life is always precious, even when punishment is required.

"While we want to make our streets drug-free and safe for our children, should it be at the expense of terminating the life of a person? Punishment and justice must always include mercy.

"We join the many voices throughout the world in appealing to our leaders to search for alternatives to the death penalty."

Mr Lasry told The Sunday Age the Good Shepherd Sisters "wanted to make a stand".

"They adored Van, and they wanted to make a stand because they were so affected by his death, and this (statement) is their way of doing it," he said.

Meanwhile, Nguyen's closest friends, Kelly Ng and Bronwyn Lew, said Nguyen, 25, made them keep promises — Ms Ng was told not cut her long hair for the next seven years — and he promised to find a boyfriend for Ms Lew.

Ms Ng told Nguyen after he made his request: "Mate, I love you, but at least let me get rid of my split ends."

Both were yesterday handed by officials from the Australian high commission letters from Nguyen that were included in a box of personal possessions from his death row cell in Changi Prison.

Arriving back in Melbourne yesterday morning Nguyen's lawyer, Julian McMahon, said: "Despite the cruel sadness (of the execution), Van has made sure his mother has come to a sense of peace, and we are all hoping she will be able to keep that sense of peace over the coming months."

Mr McMahon said he was impressed by the way Khoa, a convicted heroin trafficker, had supported his mother during their time in Singapore.

When asked what he would remember most about Van, Mr McMahon said: "A steady journey to be a good person."



Anonymous said...

How dare a nun speak up against extinguishing of human life by the PAP?! She should know her place in our society, which is to take care of the old, sick, poor and neglected. People forgotten and discard by the PAP govt.

ngu yen stupid ghost said...


Anonymous said...

Unless you've been living under a rock you'll know that plenty of opposing views have been expressed in the papers. I see you're still trying to milk a few drops out of the death.

Charles said...

I'm glad that someone from a religious organization finally decided to speak up against this form of cruel and inhumane state sanctioned murder.

I'm proud that a Singaporean senior sister has finally come out in defence against the death penalty.

This was in contrast to the Ngyuen forum in which Brother Michael had said that religious organizations are fearful of voicing publicly against the death penalty.

I had begun to feel that religious organizations are hypocritical in not at least making a stance in this issue but Sister Susan Chia's statement has made me thought otherwise and I hope other religious leaders will be encouraged to do the same; and that other Singaporeans who believe that death penalty should go will follow.

When the state realises that it cannot control civil society which has begun to find its truthful voice and courage against injustices, it will begin to lose its support. Masses will follow.

Think Singaporean said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Think Singaporean said...

"...People forgotten and discard by the PAP govt."

Thanks for recognising the flaws of sg govt! By the way, everyone in the society has their right to speak up for what they feel, including the nun.

Anonymous said...

Nguyen's brother also a convicted trafficker

Aussie court suppressed fact that he was a drug runner and given jail term for savage attack on teen

SYDNEY - THE brother of an Australian drug courier hanged in Singapore is a convicted drug trafficker and had been sentenced to jail for a savage samurai sword attack, but details of the case were suppressed due to fear that they could jeopardise clemency appeals.

KHOA'S CRIMINAL BACKGROUND was not publicised in Australia, in order to avoid jeopardising his twin brother's plea for clemency in Singapore. -- EPA

The Australian reported yesterday that Nguyen Tuong Van's brother, Nguyen Khoa Dang, in 1998 repeatedly slashed a teenager with a samurai sword, seriously wounding the 17-year-old's arm, buttock, ankle and left knee.

He was sentenced to three years in jail for the attack, which resulted in the victim requiring plastic surgery.

But County Court judge Meryl Sexton suspended the jail term because Khoa's 'personal situation...(had) become so traumatic because of (his) brother's situation', the newspaper reported.

The judge ordered that the sentence be suspended partly because his twin brother was awaiting execution in Singapore.

She also banned publication of case details while Australian officials repeatedly appealed to Singapore not to hang Nguyen, said The Australian.

Details of Khoa's conviction could be published yesterday for the first time after Judge Sexton lifted a publication restriction imposed to avoid jeopardising Ngu- yen's plea for clemency.

Khoa faced court in June last year, where he pleaded guilty to riotous assembly and recklessly causing serious injury.

In December 1998, Khoa was involved in a brawl between Asian and Islander youths in a park in the northern Melbourne suburb of Reservoir.

The prosecution alleged that Khoa armed himself with a samurai sword and struck Glen Kohu repeatedly, causing him serious injury.

The Australian reported Judge Sexton as saying that Kohu was confined to a wheelchair after the attack, forced to leave school and had since struggled to stay employed.

The trial took more than four years to reach the county court, partly because of concerns about the effect it would have on the Singapore trial of Nguyen, who was arrested in December 2002, according to The Australian.

In April 2003, Judge Sexton agreed to adjourn the case because of Nguyen's trial in Singapore.

'Amongst the reasons for my doing so which I can refer to was the effect on you of having your twin brother awaiting trial in Singapore for a capital offence,' The Australian quoted her as saying.

Khoa is a convicted drug trafficker.

He had also previously served time for drug-trafficking offences and was released from prison in July 2002.

Nguyen claimed in his trial that he had been trying to smuggle heroin to pay for his brother's mounting legal bills, partly incurred by the court case that followed Khoa's involvement in the brawl.

The court heard that Khoa, now 25, left home against his mother's wishes, abused drugs and alcohol and was a frequent customer of Melbourne's Crown casino.

Nguyen's arrest had resulted in 'an increase in (the) level of (Khoa's) maturity' but he had relapsed into heroin use in 2003, possibly as a result of his brother's arrest in Singapore, The Australian quoted Judge Sexton as saying.

Khoa was in Singapore last week for the execution of his brother.

Nguyen's family left last night for Australia with his body.

Mr Lex Lasry, who has been the family spokesman, addressed the media although the family members kept mum at Changi Airport yesterday evening.

Asked about Khoa's criminal record, Mr Lasry said he did not know about it and dismissed it as irrelevant.

'I don't have a view about it,' he said.

'I've got some views about Khoa and where he's going from here and I don't want to say anything about that.'

Think Singaporean said...

Yes, though twins but two different persons with different characteristics of their own.

Nyugen, perhaps a more responsible person but made a wrong decision to solve the problem. However, he "had completely rehabilitated" according to his lawyer.

So, it shows that through counselling and through love, concern and care from parents, family members, friends and benefactors, these convicts actually able to turn over a new leaf. Hence, death penalty is NOT a good deterrence.

As the Chinese proverb says, "it takes only 3 days to learn to be a bad person, however, it takes 3 years to learn to be a good person."

Nevertheless, to err is human but it is always very important to mix with the RIGHT people and the RIGHT friends in order not to be wrongly influenced to commit any wrongdoings.

And this could be what's happening to the twin brother, Khoa. Hopefully, after his brother's death, it helps him to be more mature and more responsible for his own actions now. And I sincerely wish him all the best and may he be able to turn over a new leaf and be a better person as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

A big thank you to the nun for standing up for herself. Every singaporean should follow her example.

Anonymous said...

My kudos to the nun. We need more people like her here. Before someone labels me a religious zealot for supporting the nun's position, let it be known that I am speaking as a HUMAN.

Human beings are embodiments of life and everything we do and aspire in the motions of the life cycle (go to school, start a career, seek companionship, get married, start families etc)all pepetuate life. To be human, is to be alive. So, when someone else (read THE STATE) takes away that which the natural laws have ordained (that too when alternative options to address the drug issue are at hand), it is time to ask questions.

whinyyyyeeee said...

I am surprised how little debate there is on the comments, and hey, no one actually disagrees with one another. Because i cannot think of a stronger deterrent than the death penalty to any crime, i support it. Unless you consider torture, or buttsex, will life imprisonment or anything else be a stronger deterrent than capital punishment? No.

Its not about Ngyuen alone, but about the death penalty as a deterrent. It is effective, it works, that's what matters. We have to consider the big picture, if Nguyen is shown mercy, then anyone can smuggle in drugs and hope to be given mercy.

Well, you might get offended at my comment as it goes against the general sentiment of this blog as a whole, and I gather that you are also against censorship. So, i dare you to delete or edit it in any way.

Anonymous said...

The way this blog works is that opposing views are ignored.

Only if someone, from a religious organization or otherwise, can come up with a better way to deter drug trafficking, would the death penalty be abolished. People who protest the death penalty ignore the casualties from drugs.

One more man may face the death penalty- Saddam. And the difference is that the death penalty in this case would be more of a punishment than a deterrent. So let's see if anti-drug protestors stick to their guns, and stick up for Saddam.

By the way, Khoa's own recurring addiction, even after being jailed and for drug trafficking demonstrates that it's an impossible task to get out of drugs once you are in them. It demonstrates the ineffectiveness of jail as a deterrent to drug trafficking. That living example debunks a lot of the anti-capital punishment arguments. Hence, the claim that someone can be rehabilitated and thus shouldn't be hanged, is just a claim.

Anonymous said...

Nguyen's brother is charged with Samurai attack and it seems drug trafficking. It seems both brothers have been involved in drug trafficking and used the ill gotten gains to buy a house.

You anti-death penalty guys and traitor Chee Soon Juan are all fools.

whinyyyyeeee said...

i wouldnt go so far as to call chee a traitor. But chee is indeed one of the few opposition politicians who work to democratize Singapore. But unfortunately, while too little democracy is totalitarian, too much does a country no good.

Think Singaporean said...

From the article "Speakers believe mandatory death penalty is unlikely to become an election issue", the breakdown of persons executed in Singapore the last 5 years by nationality and offences (1999 – 2003) was "101 are Singaporeans while the remaining 37 are foreigners. 110 of them are drugs related offences while the other 28 are non-drugs related.
51% of those sentenced to death were unemployed or working as unskilled workers, labourers or cleaners. 64% of them are either only primary educated or had no schooling."

As you can see from the figures, most of the convicts were mainly from the poor, unskilled, less educated and unemployed population.

Now, there is a TV programme showing about the addiction of drugs, glue sniffing, etc on every Thursday evenings.

Those interviewed ex-convicts mentioned that most of the time, they felt very rejected by the society even though they truly wish to change for the better. But all the time, they were not accepted by the society and were unable to get a job in order to earn a living. As such,they felt very demoralised and eventually they fell back into their old habits and then landed themselves again and again in the prison.

And I also believe that it could also be due to the mixing with the wrong companion of friends who have also influenced them into engaging in doing negative or wrong actions.

As you know, our lives in sg isn't that easy. Most of time, we have to work very hard, day and night, especially so when in times of economic crisis for the last few years. So, less time has to be spent with family members and children. Having to cope with so much pressure, both at work and in school, the lack of love, care and concern for each other is certainly lacking.

And this is what most of the ex-drug addicts, who were completely rehabilitated now, said that it was through counselling and through love, concern and care from parents, family members, friends and benefactors as well as religious faith, which had given them the encouragement and the moral support to turn over a new leaf.

So, I feel that perhaps more volunteers, community work and activities that could involve family members and friends. It will not only help to bring about better relationship within the family members but also able to stimulate more harmony, love, care and concern for each other among our society.

Suggest that all these activities and community work could also involve those ex-drug addicts so that they could feel more accepted by the society while at the same time, they are able to spend their time more meaningfully.

There are already some churches and buddhist centres which provide counselling to prisoners, etc.

This is just my personal view and suggestion. Others are most welcome to voice their views and suggestions.

Gilbert Koh said...

Whineey said:

"Unless you consider torture, or buttsex, will life imprisonment or anything else be a stronger deterrent than capital punishment? No."


Actually I think life imprisonment is as strong or even stronger a deterrent than the death sentence. For all practical purposes, if a person cannot be deterred by the idea of being locked up for the rest of his life, I don't think he would be deterred by the idea of being hanged either.

It is like a devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. Both are qualitatively very different, but both are also very extreme.

It is like telling a person "If you commit this crime, I will dig out both your eyes";

or proposing an alternative:

"If you commit this crime, I will cut off your testicles."

Both are qualitatively quite different - they lead to quite different consequences - but if one does not deter a particular person, the other is also unlikely to deter.

By the way, Whineeey, assuming you are male and have been convicted of the relevanr crime, which form of punishment would you prefer?

mister k said...

considering the fact that nguyen had been in jail for 3 years, why did not the australian government pursue the necessary actions to obtain a clemency? why did they wait till months before the impending execution to escalate matters to an international level?

even if they knew that a clemency may not be granted, they could have worked to nguyen extradition.

singapore did not chose to have nguyen transit at her airport.

whinyyyyeeee said...

lol, can i have none of the above?

Seriously, if i was convicted of the crime, i personally, from my point of view as the individisual would want to get off with a light sentence (few years jail perhaps). But from the collective point of view, its better if the rule of law remains, and serving as deterrent.

Firstly, that's true, if life imprisonment doesn't deter the offender, then maybe hanging won't. But compared to places like america or cambodia, there is considerably less drug abuse here. The thing is, the measures work, maybe not on Nguyen, but for the xth drug trafficker who thought of bringing their stuff in here.

However, if we ask the question, "if the death penalty is an effective deterrent, would a life sentence be as effective?". Then that is really a question worth asking. Because i don't think the government has ever considered whether life, rather than capital punishment would still serve its purpose well as a deterrent.

Think Singaporean said...

whinyyyyeeee suggested ".....the collective point of view, its better if the rule of law remains, and serving as deterrent."

Do we have to go by this "collective idea"?

Following Popper's induction theory which states that "Generalisations stand or fall not by verification but by FALSIFICATION."

His example, "all swans are white". While the observation of a single white swan does not verify the generalisation that "all swans are white" but the observation of a single black swan will fasify the proposition.

First and foremost, to reiterate, the Chinese proverb says, "it takes only 3 days to learn to be a bad person, however, it takes 3 years to learn to be a good person."

Truly, patience and time prove itself. Nyugen was imprisoned from 2002 to 2005 (almost 3 years) and before the sentence was carried out, one of Nguyen's lawyers, Julian McMahon, described him as "completely rehabilitated, completely reformed, completely focused on doing what is good".

As well as those examples, which I mentioned earlier, of those ex-convicts duly telecasted on the TV programme on drug addiction every Thursday evenings.

Secondly, for life imprisonment, the convicts are, in no way, could harm anyone at all!

In my point of view:

a) it is INVALID to base on "collective idea" as determinism.

b) That which implies that for "collective idea" on a wrong notion does not necessary equate to "correctness" and "righteousness".

c) Counselling, love, care, concern and religious faith provide good moral support and encouragement to convicts in solving their drug addiction and drug trafficking problems.

In view of the above, I conclude that death penalty is NOT a good deterrent. But in terms of a more humanistic and holistic approach,
imprisonment can be considered as a good and effective alternative measure!

Think Singaporean said...

d) Society acceptance of ex-convicts will certainly further enhance and provide conducive environment for them to make amends and serve the society in a better way.

Anonymous said...

Think Singaporean, your conclusions are faulty. They're based on what you SUPPOSE, not objective statements. Of course his DEFENSE lawyer would say that he is rehabilitated. What's a defence lawyer for? If fail rehabilitates everyone, then there should be no such thing as a repeat offender, right?

Love and care? Have you ever attempted to provide love and care for a hardened criminal? You may suggest it, but you suggest it for the Government to implement, do you not? You should really put thought into action and voluteer at some children's homes, who take in kids from families destroyed by drugs, alcohol etc, and see the far-reaching effects of drugs. It is truly beyond the control of anyone.

When convicts get out of jail, they find themselves with a record and the only option is to revert back to crime. You can bet the drug lords will be approaching the Nguyen family soon after. Their desperate conditions remain, and a heroin addiction doesn't go away easily.

After all this Singapore-bashing, let's hope that some kind samaritan in aus offers to pay off his loanshark loan. That would actually be effective in saving the family.

Think Singaporean said...

Anon 12.35pm

Yes, drug addiction is difficult to kick off. But those who have done it, proved it. These are not what I said. Those interviewed ex-convicts said it over the TV programme. And I also know of someone was a long-time ex-convict, who did it. He even set up a rehabilitation centre and is helping out with those addicts.

If you think drug addicts cannot be pardoned and given a chance to change, than it is the same for gamblers.

Gamblers also borrowed monies from illegal loansharks. And these loansharks are very demanding. I'm sure you know how a family of four had died.

Next, the drug lords make use of small drug traffickers to smuggle the drugs. Similarly, the loan sharks also make use of many debt collectors to collect for them.

The drug lords are difficult to catch but only small drug traffickers will be captured and executed. In comparison, debt collectors working for the loan sharks are not even easy to catch at all, let alone the loan sharks.

Why then, the sg govt still want to go ahead with the casino project (not one but two) despite over a million of the citizens' disagreement?

Anonymous said...

the bottom line is that our s'pore govt does whatever it wants and at the same time claims that most s'poreans approve of those actions. i for one would definitely not vote for a party that i consider as only paying lip service but doesnt really listen.

Think Singaporean said...

The worse thing is that they always claimed that "they are doing it for the sake of protecting its citizens", which I give them the benefit of the doubt.