On December 2nd, 2005 Van Nguyen, a 24 year-old Australian, was hanged by the state of Singapore for trafficking 396 grams of heroin. Despite capital punishment being commonplace throughout Asia, Australia itself abandoned the death penalty in 1985 and it had been 12 years since an Australian citizen faced a state sanctioned execution. The media interest was intense, diplomatic tension ensued and public opinion was split.
Van's story flooded news outlets across the region. He became the pin up boy for a number of causes: a symbol of the injustice of Singapore's mandatory death sentence system, a lesson on the consequences of drug trafficking, a martyr for human rights and an example of the power of reformation. At the moment of his execution thousands of people attended vigils and church services across the country. Van Nguyen's story had captured a nation.
Three years earlier, Van was arrested whilst in transit at Singapore's Changi Airport. He was found with heroin strapped to his body and in his hand luggage. Under Singapore's strict drug laws he automatically faced a mandatory death sentence. Van was not a seasoned drug trafficker, he had no prior criminal record and this trip was the first time he had left Australia.
Van's friends and family were shocked by the news of his arrest, including his twin brother who was, in part, the motivation for Van's ill-fated trip. His arrest brought together an unlikely group of supporters who formed Van's inner circle as his case moved from legal process to a diplomatic plea.
Just Punishment traces Van's change from naive, young man to wise beyond his years, who in the face of the hangman's noose came to fearlessly accept his fate and leave peace in the hearts of those who fought to save him. Told through a mixture of exclusive interviews, unseen observational footage and excerpts from Van's prison diaries, the documentary tracks the personal stories of Van and his inner circle from death sentence to his execution. Filmed over two years Just Punishment reveals the story behind the media face of Van Nguyen and the remarkable journey to try and keep him alive.