Monthly Archives: July 2013

As Advocates Of Those On Death Row At Death We Do Not Part

Tonight SBS will air the mini series Better Man that tells the story of Van Nguyen, the young Australian executed in Singapore. As someone who has worked on Death Penalty cases for ten years, seeks to educate the public on the issue and was part of a large group of people who battled to save Van’s life you’d think this would be a TV show I’d support. I do not and I do not believe it should go to air!

On the 2nd December 2005 at Changi Prison Singapore, Van Tuong Nguyen was executed. Hung by the neck until he was dead. As these events took place I stood outside the High Commission of Singapore in Canberra with a small group of others including then Senator Stott Despoja and waited until the news came through. Van was dead, murdered by the state of Singapore. Only days earlier I had been inside the same High Commission for the last time pleading for Van’s life to be spared.

Now many years have past, I’ve worked on many other cases, assisted by people I met during those years in which Van’s life was in the balance. Just before Van was executed I sat down with long time death penalty opponent and Australian political figure Barry Jones, almost everything he said was right. The execution would take place, more Australian’s would face the same penalty in SE Asia in years to come and because I had years on my side, years he didn’t have, I should continue to fight. But as advocates of those on death row at death we do not part. And not for the first time I find myself defending someone we have previously lost to the Death Penalty.

Left behind after Van’s death are his mother Kim Nguyen and his twin brother Khoa. Neither of them had anything to do with the making of Better Man and they do not want it screened. How is it that a show can be made accurately about an individual without any input from the two people who knew that individual best? Then there is the pain that opening this old wound is causing them, for what purpose does this serve? For ratings? To make money for the rich folk involved in its production?

Federal Speaker Anna Burke read a letter on ABC radio from Ms Nguyen to the director Khoa Do. She said she was concerned for the mental health and wellbeing of her constituents.

2005: Kim Nguyen leaving Singapore's Changi prison, with her son Khoa, after visiting her other son Nguyen Van Tuong, who was then still alive.

“Know the truth. Understand what is right and wrong. In writing a short story, like you did, you touched our family’s wounds once again,” Ms Burke read from the letter.

“Don’t do it for your personal benefit. You haven’t had enough understanding of a parents’ responsibility.

“You are not much older than my kid. Do you know what really happened? All you could do is listen to other people’s gossip. You have violated our rights and made our family’s life so difficult,” she read.

Executed:   Nguyen  Van was convicted of carrying 400 grams of heroin through Changi Airport.

Ms Burke said Ms Nguyen’s surviving son, Khoa Nguyen was distressed by the imminent screening.

“The surviving twin is going through hell and with the title Better Man it leaves someone wondering: who is the worse man?”

Ms Burke said SBS had given her and Ms Nguyen a copy of the show but she would not watch it.

“She can’t bring herself to watch it and she didn’t want anyone else to. I am respecting her wishes,” Ms Burke said.

So then we have the argument from SBS and the makers of Better Man that it will educate the public on the issue of the Death Penalty and help change the issue in our region.  Van’s Laywer Lex Lasry dismisses such claims and attacked the accuracy of the show. ”Whatever this show is, it is not the public record of what happened. The script I read was dramatically inaccurate and I guess that’s because it is a drama,”

‘‘They want to tell it because they want to tell a story and presumably attract ratings. If anyone thinks that running a dramatisation of anything like this is going to make a difference to the death penalty debate in Australia they are kidding themselves.’’ ‘‘I am concerned that the portrayal of what happened to all of the participants doesn’t really seem to accord with the truth and I think there is way too much emphasis on the lawyers,’’ he said.

‘‘The real gravamen of this story is about the family, about the death penalty itself and about the courage of our client, particularly at the end. That’s where the concentration should be. There is just too much temptation obviously to tell a legal soap opera and I don’t much care for any of that.’’

So for those of us whose lives it is to fight for every man, woman and child on Death Row. For those of us who witnessed Van’s courage, who were inspired by him and his family… it is hard to see this as anything more than the sensationalist profiteering from a tragic, painful event.

Tonight I will do what I always do, I’ll stay up until my eyes cannot stay open any longer… not because Better Man is on my screen but because there is real work to be done to save my clients right now who face the Death Penalty. For me that is a much better way to honour Van than watching any TV show could ever be!

Trayvon & The License To Kill

14 full days, 56 witnesses, 7 Statements by the defendant, 200 pieces of Evidence, 3 911 calls, 6 non-emergency calls by the defendant and 6 jurors. That was the trial of George Zimmerman, charged and as we now know found not guilty of second degree murder for shooting Trayvon Martin dead.

The trial lasted approximately 6720 minutes, I watched and heard them all live as they happened. Having worked on a capital case (Angel Diaz) in Florida my interest in the matter was more than, but not excluding, the issues that seemed to capture the attention of so many around the world and here in Australia. I wanted to write something during the trial, I wanted to write something when the verdict came down but what do you write when you see nothing that isn’t just part of the daily struggle.

There was nothing particularly unique about this trial or even the case for that matter. A dead black child the result of a gun shot wound is not much news to report in the US of A. And despite all the publicity, all the media and all the talk I knew during those 6720 minutes of trial time that it didn’t matter what happened in the trial, Zimmerman was getting off. How could I be so sure? Find me a trial in the south where a white man has been convicted by an all white jury of killing a black man!

Oh, you hadn’t heard that one before! Well you can spend all day looking, but you won’t be able to prove me wrong. That is the dirty little secret of race that really plagued this trial. It wasn’t that Zimmerman may or may not have racially profiled young Trayvon, we know he did. We know from his statements (“these fucking punks, arseholes”), the witness whose evidence wasn’t allowed on the stand “I know George, and I know that he does not like black people…He would start something. He’s a very confrontational person. It’s in his blood. Let’s just say that.”, And Zimmerman’s previous 6 calls to police regarding young black men apparently up to no good who it turns out did nothing. Or the witness that would have given evidence about the Zimmerman families racism (Not allowed as evidence), Zimmerman assaulting a police officer in 2005 (not allowed as evidence) or Zimmerman’s ex-fiance who took out a restraining order against him for Domestic Violence. No, none of that could be allowed in to prove this was an angry racist, a violent one who didn’t really like Black people. It wasn’t just that George was racist, that we were allowed to know, it was the systems overt racism that had to remain behind bars.

All of which made the jury of his peers, that nice representation of society (31% Black in that part of Florida), the 6 white women, perfect for ensuring history would not be made with the conviction of a white man killing a black man in the south. Oh, but one of the jurors was Hispanic I hear you say…., So was George 😉 This as DL Hughley rightly pointed out is not about the white man, not about supposed “Brown Solidarity”, this is a “Black Non-Black thing”.

This is what helps all explain away the fact that one was a boy, the other a man. One was armed with a packet of skittles and the other a gun, one more than 50lbs heavier and that heavier male with the gun also having trained in mixed martial arts for 18months being deemed the one in fear of his life and justified in shooting that black boy dead. It’s what helps you explain a medical examiner who said you can voluntarily walk around and talk 15 seconds after having your heart ripped out of your chest. Yes he said it, check the transcript. While you are there you can read another expert testify that Trayvon was the bigger threat even with Zimmerman having a gun, a great deal of practice on the firing range and close combat MMA training. Normally we’d call bullshit, but to continue to free white men for killing black men you have to continue to suspend belief in all the evidence and that is just what the jury did, just as it was planned out for them and just the way they saw it even after it was all over. Juror B37 has since stated when asked if she felt sorry for Trayvon that she felt sorry for George.

That’s how it plays out, that you can end up dead and the guy that kills you earns the sympathy. That a child who commits no crime can be shot in the heart and his killer not only get off but get his gun back. It’s a non-Black Black thing. Just like we have a non-Indigenous Indigenous thing in Australia. Where you can be a highly paid columnist found guilty of racism and yet with your TV show, radio show, blog and newspaper articles still feel “Silenced” and have one particular political party go into bat for your free speech rights. That’s how Marlon Noble can be locked up in WA for 10 years for no crime and that’s how Mulrunji can have his liver split in two but his killer not convicted just those who protested his death.

It’s a Black Non-Black thing and until we own that the next Trayvon killer, the next Mulrunji killer, has a license to kill!

Fundraiser for Naomi Foster, Please Help A Young Aboriginal Woman!

Naomi Foster, a local Yuin woman from Wallaga Lake, is recovering from a blood clot that has left her paralysed with restricted arm, neck and head movement. is asking you to take the time to read the poster below and spare a little money to help this young, strong woman through a very difficult time.


Please make donations at any Westpac Branch with account name Southern Womens Group – Naomi Foster, PO BOX 468 Bega, NSW 2550. The fundraising will close at the end of September.

Bring The Sun Out Tour


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