The tragic story of Van Tuong Nguyen is something I remember like it was yesterday.
A young Melbourne man, convicted for drug trafficking through Changi Airport, Singapore became a significant part of Australian history and a huge impact for what it means when Australians go overseas smuggle drugs in unforgiving, deadliest of strict countries like Singapore and Indonesia.
There is no mercy. Only a death sentence.
And the thing is, the background of Nguyen goes far deeper than just a young punk trying to make a living from selling drugs.
Nguyen’s life was tough from the word go. Born as a twin in a Thai refugee camp , his biological father abandoned the family long before.
Even having migrated to Australia, life as a teenager wasn’t easy. Unable to afford university, Nguyen worked odd jobs. It was while he was a salesman when apparently, he decided to try and help his identical twin brother, Khoa out of financial debt by becoming a drug mule.
Despite pleas of clemency from the Australian Government and Amnesty International to the Singapore government, on December 2, 2005 at Changi Prison, Nguyen met his unfortunate fate.
In the lead up to his execution, I followed the story every day. Clicking on the news, agonising photos of his mum and his brother would appear and my heart would break.
I didn’t know them. I didn’t have to. Because seeing them fall apart was enough to remind me of the fragile connection between love, life, loss and family.
Whether or not you believe that justice was served by having Nguyen’s life taken away from him, it comes back to that poignant saying, “No parent should have to bury their children”
On the last day that Ms Kim Nguyen visited her son before his execution, her wan, distressed face and suddenly appearing grey hair was enough of an image to make you realize just how horribly wrong this world can be.
Wrong that a young man naively thought drug smuggling was the solution.
Wrong that parts of world remain resolutely unchanged with their laws in capital punishment and the death penalty.
Wrong that an innocent mother had to deal with the harshest and most devastating of circumstances.
This Thursday SBS will be running a 2 part series called “Better Man” based on the events leading up to Nguyen’s execution.
I read over the weekend some reviews. From what I could gather, it certainly has the potential to create controversy into the capital punishment debate.
In fact, I had just been thinking a couple of weeks ago about Nguyen’s case and wondered that the media hype it created 7 years ago was to be forever lost and forgotten.
While Nguyen has so far been the last Australian sentenced with the death penalty, there are no assurances that there won’t be others.
I was hoping the program would keep Nguyen’s story alive and to send a strong message that while our own judicial system no longer has the death penalty, we can’t control how young Australians are sentenced in others. Especially in South East Asian countries where there is zero tolerance for drug related offences.
But, Nguyen’s mother has written a letter to the director, Khoa Do demanding to stop its screening; that such a program is only reopening wounds that have barely healed – and most likely never will – for her and her family.
And you know what? I’m taking Ms Nguyen’s side.
I’ve decided. I won’t be watching the show.
After reading her words of pain and suffering and the heavy burden she still carries, there are sensitivities to the story that the rest of us just shouldn’t touch or entertain.
If it hurts her; if she doesn’t believe that it’s a program that will bring any kind of justice or light to her son’s trial, then let’s respect her wishes.
How many of us can say we’ve gone through the painful ordeal she has?
Let her remember her son as any mother should – with love and in peace.
Joining Essentially Jess for IBOT