[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 8 22:46:36 CST 2006
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED WITH VAN TUONG NGUYEN - HANGED IN SINGAPORE:
Van Tuong Nguyen, was hanged in Changi Prison on December 02, 2005. He was
the fourth Australian to be hanged for drug-trafficking.
Nguyen was arrested at Changi airport, in transit from Cambodia to
Australia, for trafficking 396.2g of heroin, which was strapped to his
body. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003. Nguyen claimed that
he was carrying the heroin in a bid to pay off debts incurred by his twin
brother (legal fees for drug-trafficking charges and other serious
Under instructions from Nguyen's defence lawyer Lex Lasry, (his first ever
death penalty case) Nguyen's case was deliberately kept low-key and the
media remained completely silent on the case, until the last weeks prior
to the execution.
On March 23, 2004, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that ACADP had been
inundated with messages from Australians offering support for Nguyen. The
news article can be found at ...
On March 24, 2004, The Age newspaper in Melbourne reported a similar
story. The news article can be found at ...
On October 25, 2004, Nguyen's appeal to the Singapore High Court was
denied. ACADP wrote a polite heartfelt letter to Singapore President S.R.
Nathan, requesting him to consider clemency for Nguyen. A copy of the
letter was forwarded to Lasry and to various worldwide human rights
groups. The following day, excerpts of the letter were read on Melbourne
Radio 3AW by Neil Mitchell. At the time, Prime Minister John Howard was
being interviewed by Mitchell concerning the Nguyen case. Howard
acknowledged ACADP's letter and stated that the Australian Government,
opposed to the use of capital punishment, would be making a plea for
Sadly however, Lasry warned ACADP that under no circumstances were we, and
others, to say or do anything that might upset the Singapore Government.
"If Singaporeans are antagonized Nguyen will be hanged. They don't like
white people telling them how to run their country," was the stern warning
from Lasry. Hello - opponents to capital punishment in Australia come in
all colors from diverse backgrounds.
Opponents against the hanging were instructed to write nice letters, sign
nice petitions, light nice candles, and hold nice "silent" vigils - but
nothing more. History around the world shows that these niceties very
rarely, if ever, succeed in overturning a scheduled execution.
ACADP worked with Singaporean human rights lawyers and activists in
difficult circumstances, in the struggle to save Nguyen from going to the
gallows. But stealth powerful forces blocked, ignored and gagged our every
efforts. Lasry insisted that nobody was to go anywhere near his client -
even if it meant the slight possibility that his client's life could be
Singaporean high-profile human rights lawyer M. Ravi, (highly experienced
in death penalty cases) offered to work pro-bono to help save Nguyen from
going to the gallows. On numerous occasions Lasry informed Ravi and other
human rights activists to butt-out of the case, refusing to discuss any
new avenues that could save Nguyen from the gallows.
In an email to Ravi, Lasry wrote: "Do not be under any misapprehension.
You are not to go anywhere near my client and you are not instructed to
take any steps on his behalf. I have no obligation to further explain our
position to you and I do not propose to do so."
ACADP informed death penalty co-ordinator Tim Goodwin from Amnesty
International Australia, of ACADP's concerns regarding the Nguyen case. To
our astonishment, we were advised that Amnesty International is only
interested in campaigns and nothing more.
Ravi, a vocal anti-death penalty campaigner in the city-state, wrote to
The United Nations: "I humbly urge your good office to urgently intervene
in stopping Nguyens execution, which would be a serious miscarriage of
justice and would violate Singapores constitution." The United Nations
Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, and arbitrary executions
Philip Alston, reported that Nguyens execution would violate international
Hence, Ravi urged Lasry to take the case to the United Nations
International Court of Justice (also known as The World Court), to which
both countries are signatories.
Initially, Lasry told media reporters that this was not on his agenda.
Then, at almost the eleventh-hour Lasry changed his mind and asked the
Australian Government to look into it. But Australian Foreign Minister
Alexander Downer, considered that it was "unlikely" that the Singaporean
Government would agree to the ruling of the International Court of
ACADP made numerous phone calls to Canberra, on behalf of our
organisation, and also on behalf of many Singaporean human rights
activists who had informed ACADP that they were in hiding - too afraid to
speak-out against the hanging of Nguyen due to possible consequences from
the authorities. Amnesty International Australia was advised of this, but
remained silent and took no action.
Representatives for various MP's assured ACADP that the Australian
Government was doing all it could. Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd,
emailed ACADP saying the Labor Party was doing all it could to prevent the
hanging from going ahead. At this time, ACADP was receiving hundreds of
emails daily, from Australia and overseas, against the upcoming execution
However, when diplomatic niceties failed and it became obvious Nguyen
would hang, the Australian Fairfax Press created a media circus,
portraying Lasry as a legendary hero and Nguyen as a martyr. But the media
hysteria proved too much too late. The majority public expressed anger and
support for capital punishment on talk-back radio and letters to media
editors, was at an all time high.
Despite repeated calls for clemency from the Australian and New Zealand
Governments, including worldwide human rights activists and organisations,
Singapore was determined Nguyen would swing. At 6:00 AM sharp, Nguyen was
hanged inside Changi Prison. Soon after the execution, several Singaporean
human rights activists tried to approach Nguyen's mother and brother at a
service, to offer comfort and their condolences, but were refused when
Lasry burst into a rage - with waving arms and fists he ordered the
activists to leave.
Nguyen's body was flown back to Australia. A funeral service with all the
trimmings was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne. The service
was televised. This antagonized The Crime Victims Support Association
saying it appeared to glamorise a convicted drug-trafficker.
The Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks, did not attend the funeral, saying
he did not want to glorify Nguyen. ACADP published a memorial notice for
Nguyen expressing sympathy to his family, but did not attend the funeral
for the same reason as Bracks.
ACADP asked Lasry if he cared to comment regarding one of his less than
professional emails sent to various individuals who had worked at all odds
against the hanging. In an email to ACADP, Lasry replied: "There was a
significant distance between our strategy and that of others."
When a human life is at stake, surely any and every strategy, which could
mean even a slim chance of saving a human life, must be taken seriously
and cannot simply be ignored.
Nguyen and his twin brother were born in a Thai refugee camp in 1980 after
their mother Kim, fled Vietnam. At the age of six months, the boys and
their mother were accepted as refugees and migrated to Australia.
Like the vast majority of people on death row, Nguyen's life was more
difficult than easy - he made a terrible mistake and paid for it with his
life - a barbaric, brutal, cruel, degrading, inhuman and uncivilised
punishment that has no place in a modern-day criminal justice system. The
Singapore Government has shown to be all of the above.
Prime Minister Howard warned Singapore that Australia would never forget
the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen. On February 23, 2006, the Australian
Government rejected a bid by Singapore Airlines for permission to fly a
permanent route between Sydney and the USA, which drew strong criticism
from the Singapore Government. Obviously, an indication that
Australian-Singapore relations have been strained.
A documentary film on Nguyen is in the final stages and will be released
at a date yet to be advised. The film-makers contacted ACADP soon after
Nguyen had been sentenced to death.
It has since become evident that right from the start of this case, there
were people who knew that Nguyen would be executed. This leaves some
unanswered questions; If the Australian Government had been deadly serious
about saving Nguyen's life at any cost, why didn't the Australian
Government employ the services of top-notch defence lawyers from the USA -
known for their ultra expertise and long-time experience in death penalty
cases? This could have been easily done, but it was not. Furthermore,
International law could have saved this young Australian man, yet for some
unknown reason this final avenue was not pursued, neither by Lasry nor by
the Australian Government. Why?
Life brings many lessons ... one important lesson is that some things are
not always as they seem!
THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: By: Robert Richter,
(Public statement read at public protest outside The Supreme Court of
Victoria on Friday December 02, 2005. Published with permission from
Robert Richter, QC)
Van Nguyen is dead and we are not. Van Nguyen is beyond whatever suffering
he has gone through. We live with the legacy of the most horrible, brutal
and obscene killing that takes the name of law, but which will never bear
the name of justice.
Approximately 40 years ago, I stood outside Pentridge Prison when the last
man was hanged in Victoria. There was a total and absolute recognition
that it deterred no one when we, and other rational communities, abolished
the death sentence.
A mandatory death sentence is an even greater obscenity because it is
administered by the judges and governments who propound lies - lies that
include the notion that the crime merited death, that the death will be a
deterrent. Those of us who know the legal system and have seen it operate
in countries where there is capital punishment, and in countries where
there is not, know full well that the death sentence is not a deterrent.
And the reason it is not a deterrent is because the people who commit
crimes for which they are sentenced to death do not do so with the
expectation that they will be caught and executed.
They commit their crimes out of ignorance, stupidity, naked greed, maybe
desperation, maybe passion. But the one thing that they do not take into
account is the notion that what they do may bring about the death
sentence. Van Nguyen certainly did not.
The Prime Minister of Singapore said that what Van Nguyen did merited the
death sentence; that drug traffickers purvey death, and therefore they
ought to be killed. What he didn't say was that Van Nguyen was merely in
transit through Singapore. Australia was the intended victim of his
action, and Australia said we do not judicially murder people. There is
something entirely chilling about the state apparatus cold-bloodedly,
wantonly, obscenely, killing a human being.
There is the most extraordinary hypocrisy that abounds around us about
these notions. Hypocrisy emanating not just from the Asian states to our
north, but from the President of the United States, the man responsible
for more deaths than probably any other human being in the USA.
Van Nguyen committed the crime. We do not apologise, we do not sanctify,
we do not deify him. The punishment did not fit the crime and could not,
but the obscenity of mandatory death sentence meant he had to die.
The great question is: what are we doing about it? We need to campaign
hard and permanently to make sure that this does not happen again. There
are Australians in Bali who may be dead soon.
This morning I heard Senator Ellison (Federal Justice Minister) say:
"We've done all we could."
That is a lie. It's a complete lie.
I've heard the Prime Minister (John Howard), I've heard Mr Ruddock
(Federal Attorney-General), I've heard Mr Downer (Foreign Affairs
Minister), say they've done everything they can.
That is a lie.
I've heard Mr Downer say: "We've done everything we can."
That is a lie.
We have not legally or politically done everything that we can. When did
we propose to the United Nations that we should bring up capital
punishment as being contrary to the rule of law because it does not
recognise the notion of judicial discretion in sentencing, of
proportionality between crime and punishment which lies at the root of all
Where is the resolution of the Parliament - both houses - condemning the
execution as unlawful? The Government hasn't done it. The Opposition
hasn't done it. And it's not just Howard and Ruddock and Downer and
Ellison who are lying to us.
That lick-spittle (John Howard) who gave away his principles over the
Tampa also hasn't done it, but seems content to say: "Well, they're doing
what they can."
Well they could have done a lot more, and they could have done it
privately. They could have said to the Singaporean Prime Minister,
quietly: "You do this and Singapore Airlines will fly empty between
Australia and the United States, Singapore Airlines being an arm of the
There is nothing as chilling as the cold-blooded execution in Changi. We
live with it. Every time we think of it we will shudder.
(source: AUSTRALIAN COALITION AGAINST DEATH PENALTY; AUSTRALIAN STUDENTS
AGAINST CAPITAL PUNISHMENT-----ACADP)
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