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December 01, 2005


I am sitting here with my week old baby in my arms.

Tomorrow morning, the State of Singapore will hang a foolish young Australian for smuggling drugs (he was in Singapore only in transit, the drugs had never been, nor would ever be in Singapore). It's a sad terrible story of an addict brother, money lenders to whom the brother was in debt, and a foolish attempt to pay off those debts.

In Singapore, the barbarity of the death penalty (per capita far ahead of any nations, even the chinese and USA) is compounded by it being mandatory - a judge cannot commute a sentence, regardless of the situation of the defendent. Regardless of his remorse, cooperation, pleading guilty. This young Australian has shown and done all that.

23 years ago his mother, a refugee with her young family from Vietnam, held Nguyen Tuong Van in her arms, as I do Zoe Kate now. Now, passionlessly, premeditatedly, rationally, the State of Singapore will take just another of the countless lives States have taken over the centuries, diminishing that nation and all its citizens, diminishing all of us.

If you agree with me, please do something, possibly (though very unlikely) for Nguyen Tuong Van, but hopefully for others who will come after.

See Amnesty international for what you can do right now.

And if you don't agree with me, then please don't demean yourself by leaving a comment. Just go and take a good hard look at yourself.

Finally to the government of Australia. Nice one, you bunch of gutless arseholes. Done nothing for a citizen of their country. Add this to your litany of racist, war mongering, self serving actions over the last sorry sorry 9 years for our country. Your undoing may be some way off, but will not go unrejoiced by many.

Then perhaps my country can move past the huge backward steps in terms of values, the environment, our society as a whole, our place in the wider world, our treatment of our indiginous peoples, that we have taken since 1996.

I can only hope.

Peace to Nguyen Tuong Van and his family.


Apparently nearly half of all Australians believe this man should be hanged.

If that's you, keep it to yourself around me. You have been warned.

I'll happily go on the record to say that if you believe in the death penalty at all, in any circumstances, I firmly believe you have a vital piece of your humanity missing.


December 1, 2005 | Permalink


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» Starting the day with a death - then on with life from The Bartlett Diaries
This mornings execution of Van Nguyen casts a discernable shadow over today. As 9am – the time of execution - approached, I attended a vigil outside the Singapore High Commission, just down the road from Parliament House. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 3, 2005 12:44:03 AM


I am typing this one handed while breastfeeding Zoe Kate. While the plight of Van Nguyen has for the past few months upset me to the extent of not really being able to talk about it to others for fear of totally losing it, the last week has given me insight into the horrific plight of his mother.

One of the joys of parenthood they don't tell you about before you sign on is that the endless hours of baby gazing also provide perfect opportunity to fret over all the bad things that might possibly happen to your beloved baby.

Kim Nguyen no doubt did the same with her twin boys, but I'm sure she couldn't imagine anything this awful. That she should know the date and hour of her perfectly healthy son's death, to know of his remorse for his crime, to know his potential to lead a productive life, to know all his good qualities and have to stare at her baby through a glass wall and say goodbye without being able to do anything to help him - other than perhaps give him one last cuddle if the Singaporean government is very very generous - is beyond belief. I'm sure she'd rather die herself.

I don't know how you stop your children from doing stupid, reckless things that put them in peril. No doubt one day Zoe Kate will make some very bad decisions of her own. I can only hope that she makes them in a era that has a little more compassion and belief in the power of redemption than the one in which Van Nguyen lives out his final hours.

Shame on the Australian government for not doing more to save this man. Shame on humanity for being so savage.

Posted by: Sara Lander | Dec 1, 2005 3:29:10 AM

Not enough people are aware that even those who don't traffic drugs are taking a big chance visiting Singapore. Drug smugglers often brobe baggage officials to let them stash their drugs in some poor unsuspecting person's luggage, with plans of someone in Singapore collecting the luggage *after* it has cleared customs. Since Singapore's judicial system puts the defendent at burden of proving innocence, someone caught with drugs in their bags is at great risk of getting hanged, even if they are not drug smugglers. There have been several cases where people ultimately hanged did not appear to be actual drug smugglers. In one case, a couple traveling with their kid was caught, and eventually the couple was hanged despite pleas that the drugs were planted. I remember reading that the couple had to contact family members to arrange foster care for their kid.

Posted by: Eric von Schonberg | Dec 1, 2005 4:40:03 AM

Thanks for sharing John and Sara.

The whole business to me is just anohter example of how in touch we still are with pre-enlightenment (so called) values. When I meet people who tell me they are in favour of the death penalty in any way I always feel quite literally sick in their presence.

I actually think Singapore is what I can only call a "phuktup" place. I read somewhere the other day that the condemned have the option of having their photograph taken a few days before the date, "in their best clothes". Now where is *that* coming from?

It puts me in mind of something I read too in a piece about the fact that in some cases in China capital punishment is carried out almost immediately after the sentence is handed down. An official commented that he felt the condemned actually appreciated this, rather than the drawing out of the suffering which would take place otherwise!

I think John's title pretty much sums it up.

Posted by: Maxine Sherrin | Dec 1, 2005 8:30:26 AM

All the while, this poor man's Mother waits to hear if she will be allowed to hold her son one last time before he is put to death.

I'm moving to Mars -- this planet lost the plot long ago :(

Posted by: Andrew K | Dec 1, 2005 9:08:17 AM

Thanks for this posting John, it's good to find someone who actually shares a sense of total outrage at this barbaric act, rather than resignation.

Something that has really sparked me off this week was hearing an interview with Brian Morley, one of the journalists to witness Ronald Ryan's killing (more accurate word than execution don't you think?). More than 30 years after the event, he still broke down in tears when recalling the details. Who better to tell of the way in which the death penalty destroys everyone who participates?

Now onto my major MAJOR outrage this week. While Howard, Downer and Ruddock are all happy to express their personal abhorrence, this is clearly a private matter to them. They see no need to translate this personal view into strong representations with their 'friends' who maintain this barbaric conduct. Two thoughts occur - economic development is more important than moral positions, and/or they don't want to stir up voters who actually like the death penalty.

In 2003, Howard said "The reason I don't support capital punishment is pragmatic." He went on to say "I know lots of Australians who believe that a death penalty is appropriate and they are not barbaric, they're not insensitive, they're not vindictive, they're not vengeful..." [quote from SMH]. Doesn't it sound like his response to Pauline Hanson all over again? In other words, I'm not personally like that but if good people (ie. Liberal voters) are then that's OK.

Sorry John Howard, but anyone who even fleetingly believes that the death penalty makes the world a better place IS barbaric.

Posted by: Anura | Dec 1, 2005 11:24:37 AM

Agreed, and all the more tragic that it was a stupid mistake rather than some premeditated act of violence. Tragic.

Posted by: mattymcg | Dec 1, 2005 7:19:08 PM

Re the Update, yeah I saw that too John. The only thing I can think to say is it's not half of Australians, it's half of the redneck wonderland ninemsn audience.

But yeah, agreed. Maybe I'm going to an odd place with this, but things like that are why I seriously question the idea of nation. I mean, WTF have I got in common with a person who would say that? AFAIC we don't even belong to the same species, let alone to some construct such as a nation.

Sick, oh sick.....

Posted by: Maxine Sherrin | Dec 2, 2005 8:06:43 AM

I cannot even contemplate the horror of this act -let alone how his mother can cope with the unthinkable torture being inflicted on her. Thank you John, and Sara (my daughter), and everyone who has posted their thoughts above. The knowledge that the people I care about find everything about the matter as abhorrent as I do is the only ameliorating aspect of this truly hideous example of how degraded humanity can be. (I don't know how you coped last night with a new baby Sara and John as sleep was impossible anyway.)

Posted by: Lorna | Dec 2, 2005 10:45:01 AM

I cannot believe that the Singapore population all fully believe that the death penalty is just. There has to be some sort of State sponsored brainwashing going on there. Yes, there needs to be punishment for serious crimes. At most this should be a jail sentance.

The argument that the death penalty is the ultimate deterrant to crime, drug crime in particular, is a fallacy. It is never the crime bosses or the crime syndicates that get punished. It is only ever the desparate individuals that are caught up either as drug mules or who see this as the (much misguided) only way out of a bad situation.

Even in the case of murder, if you take the life of one who has themselves taken a life then you are only propagating the killing. It does nothing to get back the individual whose life is taken and it leaves all involved psychologically scarred. There has to be a better way to punish crime.

My thoughts go out to the Nguyen family and friends and especially to his mother and twin brother. There is a very deep bond between twins and I can only feel sorry because it seems that by the stupidity of his own actions Van's brother has condemned his own sibling to death and taken away a very important part of his own life and soul.

And to our government, thanks for selling this country off to the highest bidder. It used to be such a nice place to live.

Posted by: Andrew | Dec 2, 2005 3:27:10 PM

I sat here at work and cried at 9am this morning for a poor young man who didn't deserve to die. And for his mother and family who will never get to see him become a real old, crinkly Aussie bloke. We failed him and that is something I feel really sad about. Anyone who thinks that today an eye for an eye is still how it should play out, has no heart.
I've had about 6 friends give birth in the last 6 months and I know how hard it will be for them to deal with this too... but you don't have to be a mother to know how wrong this all is.
All I hope is that he rests in peace.

Posted by: Claire Claire | Dec 2, 2005 5:38:13 PM

I am extremely sad to read this tragic newly for a perfect healthy young man in such tragic ending.
I absolutely agree some of you that the Australian government led by Mr. John Howard is so gutless and useless to prevent this from happening. I'd like to see two things taking place in the near future: 1. John Howard' government should be voted out. Australian deserve a more responsible, more responsive and quicker-to-action government. Although this young man was foolish, I am not condone his crime, however, his death, from my perspective, should be partially responsible by Mr. John Howard. 2, I believe eye for eye, we should remove glove from our hand to deal this barbaric oriental government, waiting for chance to hit them hard and give them a fatal lesson, bring them to a civilized world in the 21st century by savagely bomb the hell out of them. Gentlemen, let me repeat my stand: I totally agree this young man is guilty but he should not be paying with his life.
My fury is that Singaporean SOB PM Lee is so arrogant to blindly and unequivacated to defend his barbarism. Some government should behave like President Bush has behaving toward Iraq to strike a deadly blow to those Singaporean SOBs. Can we anticipate from the Australian current government? I firmly believe military power is the ultimate solution to everything as long as used in a just way. Singapore is such a tiny puny country, their arrogance is not commensurated with their country size. Their cockiness is so inflated to the point we cannot ignore. It is oversized. I firmly believe bomb them and I firmly believe international community will understand the action and it eventually will blow away. My fellow human being, If we only sit here to lament and without doing anything, I can guarenttee this tragic will happen again and again.

Posted by: Frank L. chao | Dec 3, 2005 1:21:43 PM


I was tempted to delete the comment, but I'll let is stand, as much as anything to observe that your suggestion would simply continue to the cycle of violence - which regardless, is never a solution.

Our humanity is evinced in finding non violent, rational solutions to our problems. Right now, there does not seem to be a lot of this about


Posted by: john Allsopp | Dec 3, 2005 3:56:48 PM

Something has to be done about the arrogance of the Singaporean authoritarian government. Unfortunately, Australia is not a very strong country, and it’s leader seem clearly lacking in courage and forcefulness.

If a citizen of a powerful country is ever on death row in Singapore, I’d like to see the leader of that powerful country tell the Singaporean government unequivocally that if they carry out the execution, it will be treated as an act of war.

Then, if they were to go ahead and executed him anyway, I’d like to see two cruise missles launched taking out both the President and the Prime Minister of Singapore, followed by a warning to whomever replaces the eliminated leaders that another execution of one of their citizen will result in Singapore’s sovernty being completely revoked.

One can argue that Singapore has a sovereign right to execute drug smugglers, even when there are mitigating circumstances. In fact, one could even argue that Singapore has the sovereign right to execute those who chew gum. But, history has shown that a county’s sovereign rights only go so far as that country’s power. Throughout history, one country has constanty had its sovernty revoked by another. Furthermore, Nietzsche has asserted that there is no absolute good or evil, adn ultimately it’s power that determines what is right.

It’s time for Singapore’s sovernty to be revoked, and for some powerful country to plunder it. I don’t believe in boycotting product; I believe in kicking some ass.
Eric von Schonberg

Posted by: Eric von Schonberg | Dec 4, 2005 8:15:21 PM

Onya Johnnie (Allsopp, not Howard).
I'm sure Frank and Eric are just practicing a little reductio ad absurdum in their efforts to prove that all killing is insane. What is it about blog comments that beings out the absurdum in people?
Peace, love and good grammar to all.

Posted by: Adster | Dec 4, 2005 11:41:30 PM

It makes me cringe when I hear someone say "If you disagree with me, I'd rather not hear from you". Closed minds cause nothing but pain, whether that's the pain of Nguyen's mother, or that of another person's opinion being rejected.

To add insult to injury, we have people like Eric von Schonberg call for an attack on and Westernisation of Singapore (ala America). You're a bigot Eric, pure and simple. You should also avoid paraphrasing Nietzsche when you understand neither the context nor the ideologies of the man. "Ultimately it's power that determines what is right"? I only wish we could go back in time so you can try that on for size with Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union. I guess you've still got the chance to test that theory with Bush's USA. Report back with your results.

Back to Nguyen, I do not condone the death penalty. However (here's the clincher), I do understand Singapore's position. To me, it's not a violation of human rights. Singaporeans live under the very same laws that convicted Nguyen. The Australian media and people are suggesting that because he carried an Australian passport, he is therefore above their laws? As an Australian, I think that's rediculous. The day we begin to think like that is the day we become a puppet state of America. Australians watch too much Law and Order - in real life you can't just take matters to a higher court when things don't go your way. Our government knew this, no international laws exist which would have granted Nguyen the possibility of clemency. It's rare that I agree with our government, but in this case I do. Forgive the crude simplification, but consider these three outcomes:

1. 26,000 people recieve and take heroin.
2. Singapore pays to clothe, feed, and house Nguyen for the rest of his life.
3. Nguyen is killed.

You're saying that 2 is the only acceptable option. I'm saying that 2 would be my choice, but that if 3 is the law, it's the law. Nguyen was a mule, not an innocent child. Notice how one of the only people they've managed to interview was his kindergarten teacher? They have not been able to find a psychiatrist who will say that he exhibits genuine regret. What does this say about him? Do you still think that he was only trying to pay off his brother's deb? Keep in mind that his brother was in jail for 9 months for possessing and trafficking heroin.

To those of you who oppose the death penalty (at least in the case of Nguyen), please reply with alternative solutions to this particular instance. Ie, should he get life imprisonment, alternative method of death, returned to Australia for local punishment etc...I'd love to hear your ideas.

His brother gambled and lost money, Nguyen gambled and lost his life. Both knew the consequences, both have destroyed the life of their mother.

Posted by: Nathan de Vries | Dec 5, 2005 12:25:51 PM


it is my profound belief that to even discuss "rationally" this issue is to elevate the use of execution to the level of conscionable, where it simply is not. It demeans us profoundly to even pretend to discuss it, as it does to even momentarily consider the use of torture. Some things are simply far below our most basic humanity, this being one of the most central.

I stand by my firm belief that anything other than the mos principled objection to the death penalty is barbaric.

Posted by: john Allsopp | Dec 5, 2005 12:54:12 PM

Thank you John for making it so clear.

The issue is not about how bad heroin smuggling, or murder or whatever the crime is. The primary issue is that the death penalty is wrong in every case, in every place.

Once that is understood, we can then look at sensible approaches to punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation (all essential features of any sentencing regime).

And please, let's forget the reference to how many thousands of potential victims versus one life. Every life is important - Nguyen's was just as important as everyone else's, regardless of his crime.

"No man is an island, entire of itself... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind ..."

Posted by: Anura | Dec 5, 2005 4:21:20 PM

I guess there are times when we must agree to disagree. Take for example your interest in boxing.

Boxing is a violent sport, a brutal sport and sometimes a deadly sport. The boxers choose to box, just as Nguyen chose to become a mule. Both parties are aware of the risks, which is ultimately death.

So before you strike out all Australians who don't agree with your principal that the death penalty should neither be spoken of nor enforced, think about the sport you enjoy watching. Then think about the clothes you wear, or the food you eat. The people you help, the people you don't.

We are all walking hypocrites, by our very nature. To call someone barbaric because their ideas don't "sit well" with your own denies that fact.

Posted by: Nathan de Vries | Dec 6, 2005 2:03:35 PM

I am looking for the Sara Lander who worked for the European Movement in London. Do you know her??


Posted by: Linda Barthel | Dec 27, 2005 12:01:50 PM

Everyone will surely agree with me when I will say "NO one has right to take away anyone's life". So, such kind of legal punishment of death is just F**king.
Again I wonder, if someone smuggles drugs and sell them to people (who will die one day due to use of those same drugs), isn't he the culprit for that?

So, as he's responsible for such incidents, it's not a big deal to give him the death penalty.I know the person associated with him will get hurt a lot, more than even I can guess. But the point is-In Today's world, there are lots of legal ways to earn money, then why such dangerous illegal activities?

God is seeing all and He will certainly give the right decision for all.

Don't mind it.

Posted by: Wellness | Nov 11, 2010 6:01:50 PM

I think the Australian people are right on ignoring that man. He was clearly on the wrong path of Justice, and if you all think this one man should be pitied..What about others who are of the same stature as him? Should we pity the rest of them? And how many drugs would you think be brought to our community if everytime we pardon drug addicts? So now, I pass the ball to you dear author~

Posted by: Ivanika Humpalot | Jul 12, 2011 10:24:46 AM