Australia buries executed Nguyen

Nguyen's body was flown back to Melbourne for burial
At least 1,000 mourners have attended the funeral in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral of a man executed in Singapore for drug-smuggling.

Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australian of Vietnamese descent, was hanged last Friday for trafficking heroin despite strong appeals for clemency.

The 25-year-old's body was flown back to Melbourne on Sunday.

A plea for forgiveness written by Nguyen hours before his death was read out at the requiem Mass.

Fr Peter Hansen made a strong condemnation of "retribution and vengeance" in his sermon to the congregation in the Roman Catholic cathedral.

"And I say to these people if you build a world upon these so-called values of retribution and vengeance, then you will build a world in which some people will always seek to take drugs," he said.

All Australians, he told Nguyen's mother Kim as she sobbed, supported her in the face of her pain.


Australian Prime Minister John Howard earlier warned Singapore that its execution of Nguyen might harm links between the peoples of their two countries.

Nguyen's mother had fought for clemency for her son

His Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, had said his country had decided that "the law should take its course".

Canberra said mitigating factors should have been taken into account.

One of Nguyen's lawyers, Julian McMahon, said his client had prayed until he was required to walk the 50m to the execution chamber.

He died "optimistically and with strength and died a very courageous death", Mr McMahon said.

Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told the BBC he was "terribly disappointed" by the news of the execution.

Nguyen, he said, had always maintained he had smuggled the drugs to earn enough money to pay off legal bills of A$30,000 (13,000) incurred by his twin brother, a former heroin addict.

Mr Ruddock reiterated his earlier comments that death by hanging was "barbaric".

'26,000 doses'

But Mr Howard rejected calls for trade and military boycotts against Singapore, one of Australia's strongest allies in Asia.

He added that the execution should serve as a warning to other young Australians.

"Don't imagine for a moment that you can risk carrying drugs anywhere in Asia without suffering the most severe consequences," he said.

Singapore has some of the strictest drug trafficking laws in the world, and anyone found with 15g of heroin faces a mandatory death penalty.

Nguyen Tuong Van was convicted three years ago of carrying nearly 400g (14 ounces) of heroin at Singapore airport while travelling from Cambodia to Australia.

Prime Minister Lee said the case involved "an enormous amount" of drugs - the equivalent of 26,000 doses.

Nguyen was the first Australian to be executed overseas in more than a decade.

  • Nguyen Tuong Van Case Page & Petition

  • Van's final words

    Nguyen Tuong Khoa during today's service.
    December 7, 2005 - 3:15PM

    In the order of service for his funeral, a photo of a young Nguyen Tuong Van stares from the page.

    The photograph depicts Nguyen as a serious-looking young boy, wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sandals, with a white hat resting on his knee as he sits beside a suburban street.

    On the opposite page are words he wrote two hours before his execution, at once chilling and tender, expressing his love and gratitude to all that knew him.

    Another note from Nguyen, this one handwritten and reproduced in the book, also gives his family instructions on how he wanted a part of the service conducted.

    The note was signed Caleb Van. Caleb is Nguyen's baptismal name.

    The text from the reproduced handwritten note:

    Also, could you please ask everyone (at one stage) to put their hands on their hearts to feel my love, appreciation and God's awesome love.

    And instead of turning to one's left and right to shake hands, please ask each one to hug instead and introduce themselves so that they shall no longer be strangers.

    This is all I ask Father. God bless you.

    And I shall see you soon and welcome you with our Lord, Jesus Christ.


    Caleb Van.

    The last page of the prison diary of Caleb Nguyen Tuong Van, written two hours prior to his death:

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, to one and all whom have fought so hard for my life, to all who have prayed and those I have hurt, please forgive me for my sins and accept my sincere apologies.

    It is now the eleventh hour. My work here is done now. Pray, may I not have failed you completely and by the Grace of God may you find strength and comfort in these words my heart now speaks to you my brothers and sisters.

    As I lay here listening to the prayers being said for me I take measure of all that has taken place and what is about to be.

    I am returning to the Lord now. He loves us all so much. He is in all of us. He's always been there. It is we who need to love Him.

    I shall be looking down on you and shall be in all your hearts. I shall never cease to love you and can only promise I will never leave your side.

    To know that I am there you need only place your hands (on) your heart and I'll be there.

    I now thank each and everyone for all that has been achieved by the love you all possess. Amazing Grace because that is what you are.

    I smile now as I prepare myself to return to the Lord. You all are now in my prayers. Please don't be sorry but instead celebrate the life God has made possible through his love.

    These shall be my last words now. But I will see you again. Be of great faith; of greater courage and firm heart.

    It is now my time. May God continue to bless you. May His light shine upon you. May He grant you Peace and bring you everlasting ife. Amen.

    See you my brothers and sisters.

    I love you ... and forever will.

    Fear not my brothers and sisters. Fear not.


    Nguyen letters read at his funeral
    The World Today - Wednesday, 7 December - Reporter: Alison Caldwell

    ELEANOR HALL: Letters and diary entries which Van Nguyen wrote in the final hours of his life were read during a requiem mass held for the convicted heroin trafficker in Melbourne this morning.

    The 25-year-old helped to plan his funeral service before his execution in Singapore last Friday and more than a thousand people turned up for the mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in east Melbourne.

    But a decision by four Bracks Government politicians to attend the service has angered the State Victims of Crime Support Agency, which labelled the move insulting.

    In Melbourne, Alison Caldwell reports.

    (Sound of hymns being sung)

    ALISON CALDWELL: More than 1,000 people attended the requiem mass at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral this morning.

    Delivered in both English and Vietnamese, the service was conducted by Father Peter Hansen. Father Hansen told the story of Van Nguyen and his mother and brother, as they fled from Vietnam as refugees.

    PETER HANSEN: We can think of the journey his mother, Chi Kim Nguyen a journey through pirate infested seas, through the detention camps of Thailand, through the hardships of resettlement as a refugee in a new and then strange land and through the difficulties of raising twin boys on her own.

    Courage and boldness marked her journey and it's been those qualities of courage and boldness that have marked these last couple of years of Van's life journey.

    ALISON CALDWELL: In recent years, he said, Van Nguyen made terrible mistakes.

    PETER HANSEN: There was a period of Van's life, where he was not a virtuous man. I don't try to conceal that. His family and friends don't try to conceal that. Van himself didn't try to conceal that. No one has proclaimed Van as innocent.

    But it is part of the God created genius of our humanity that individuals are able to turn their lives around. Are able to realise the need to repent, to atone, to seek forgiveness, to pay a debt. Human beings can change.

    ALISON CALDWELL: And Father Hansen had this message for the people who supported Van Nguyen's execution.

    PETER HANSEN: The voices belong to people who do not understand the fundamental truth that human beings can change, can move from a life that does harm to one that does good. And I say to these people, if you build a world upon which the so-called values of retribution and vengeance, then you will build a world in which some people will always seek to take drugs. Because you will build a world of such unbearable harshness that people will do anything to escape it.

    ALISON CALDWELL: Among those attending the mass, four Bracks Government MPs, including Footscray MP Bruce Mildenhall.

    He said he wanted to show support for Van Nguyen's family.

    BRUCE MILDENHALL: To show my continuing opposition to capital punishment, but my respect for yet another life that has been lost to this rotten drug trade that is still a scourge in my community and right throughout Australia.

    ALISON CALDWELL: The Premier Steve Bracks didn't attend the funeral. Yesterday he said he didn't want to glorify Van Nguyen in death, but he wouldn't stand in the way of other MPs who wanted to attend.

    That angered the Crime Victims Support Association President Noel McNamara.

    NOEL MCNAMARA: I just think that the Government's reached the pinnacle of stupidity with these insults to all victims of crime and actually the community at large.

    ALISON CALDWELL: Why do you say that?

    NOEL MCNAMARA: Well, I mean this guy is a convicted drug smuggler and he was going to bring drugs of mass destruction down here. I mean, he's paid his price, that's fair enough, but why should the Government MPs be there. I haven't seen them at my daughter's funeral when she was murdered or anyone else's for that matter in the time I've been around.


    ALISON CALDWELL: Twenty five-year-old Van Nguyen helped plan his funeral. According to his instructions, Father Peter Hansen asked the congregation to embrace each other as sign of reconciliation and unity.

    ELEANOR HALL: And that report from Alison Caldwell on the requiem mass held in St Patrick's Cathedral in east Melbourne for Van Nguyen.

    Nguyen mourners slam death penalty
    December 07, 2005

    MORE than 1000 mourners packed a Melbourne Catholic cathedral today for the funeral of hanged drug smuggler Van Tuong Nguyen.

    Mourners, many dressed in white, gathered inside St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral in East Melbourne for Nguyen's requiem mass, which began at 11am (AEDT).

    Nguyen's mother Kim and brother Khoa, both dressed in white suits, arrived in separate silver cars that pulled up in the courtyard outside the cathedral about 20 minutes before the mass began.

    Friend Bronwyn Lew, who with Kelly Ng ran the Reach out for Van campaign, tied yellow ribbons around elm trees outside the cathedral before the service.

    Mourners lined the sides of the church and stood six-deep at the back among scores of memorial candles.

    Several mourners sat on the cathedral steps or milled around the cathedral courtyard.

    Dozens of floral tributes were also laid out in the sunshine.

    Robert Marshall, of Panton Hill, was one of many mourners there to offer support to the family of Nguyen, hanged in Singapore late last week for drug trafficking.

    "My family has been affected by drugs, and my son died because of drugs, so I am very aware of the scourge of drugs, but I firmly believe Van should not have had his life taken from him," he said.

    "So, I've come to show my support just as one of thousands of Australians who I think will turn up today to show their support for the family."

    Sister Carole McDonald, of the Sisters of Mercy, said she attended because she wanted to raise her voice against the death penalty.

    "I have worked with Vietnamese refugees in refugee camps overseas," she said. "I don't believe in the death penalty. I think he (Nguyen) made a terrible mistake, but I think capital punishment diminishes us all.

    "I think our Australian Government should have done more to bring him home to Australia and dealt with under our law because he was going to bring those drugs here."

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