What would Nguyen Tuong Van be going through now? Nick Harrington, president of Reprieve Australia,
an organisation committed to providing legal and humanitarian
assistance to people on death row, tells Crikey that he doesn’t presume
to know. But he does endorse the observations of Nguyen’s
criminal lawyer, Lex Lasry, about the case.

“To be around people who are on death row is rather inspiring,
confronting but inspiring,” says Harrington, who’s worked at an
anti-death penalty centre in New Orleans. “You see a deep inner resolve
and strength
because these people are confronting a very difficult time in their
life.” You’re “struck by their humanity.”

In order for people to understand the full ramifications of the death penalty, “you’ve got to humanise these
people in the public imagination.” It’s very easy for a state to “try and
execute someone who is only defined by a crime.”

In that sense, Lasry and the Howard government are to be commended, says Harrington.
They “really have humanised Van.” The Australian media has also done a
“tremendous job” in this respect as opposed to the Singapore media
which hasn’t given the case any oxygen, thereby perpetuating the idea of Nguyen as a faceless

But the truth is, “they are killing one of us,” says Harrington so we have to ask
ourselves, “how do we feel about that?” In the end, Nguyen – a “cleanskin” – will die “for engaging in a stupid
and reckless act” that was nevertheless conducted with a certain
“virtuous intent.”

for the Howard government, its flexible stance on the death penalty has
“bitten them.” You can’t say you have no objection to the death penalty for the Bali bombers and then object to
Nguyen’s execution. Prime Minister John Howard’s endorsement of a Qantas-Singapore Airlines deal while Nguyen’s on death
row shows there’s a “limit to their commitment.”

Says Harrington: “The Singaporeans have to be told, ‘if you make this decision, then it
may have consequences in other areas.'”