End death penalty: Singapore nun

Steve Butcher with Mark Russell
The Age
4 Dec 05

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.”

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