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Lawyer must get permission from courts, says Prison Service. Andrew Loh & Rachel Zeng.

Lawyer for death-row inmate denied access to client

Andrew Loh / Rachel Zeng

Despite having confirmed that inmate is represented by new lawyer, the Prison Service insists on having the Court's permission before it allows lawyer access to his client.

Malaysian Yong Vui Kong was arrested for  trafficking 47g of heroin into Singapore in June 2008. Yong, who was 19 when he was caught, was sentenced to death after a court trial.

Yong was assigned State counsel during his appeal, which was dismissed by the Courts. His only chance of escaping death is through a presidential pardon, which he has appealed for. The President has yet to decide if this will be granted.

Under Singapore’s anti-drug laws, the death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15gm of heroin, 30gm of cocaine or 500gm of cannabis.

On 17 November, Mr M Ravi, who is now Yong’s lawyer, applied to the Singapore Prison Service to conduct an interview with Yong, who is now 21-years old.

On 18 November, the application was denied. Mr Goh Wizhang from the Prison Service (PS) responded in a teleconversation with Mr Ravi, that an approval from the Court was needed for Mr Ravi to conduct the interview. This was because, the PS said, Yong was represented by State-assigned Counsel, Mr Kelvin Lim.

However, Mr Kelvin Lim has since been released from the case and is no longer representing Yong as his counsel. Mr Ravi is now Yong’s lawyer. As such, Mr Ravi told the PS that he does not need any permission from the courts to visit his client. “You have contacted Mr Kelvin Lim this morning who had confirmed the same,” the letter to the PS, dated 18 November, from Mr Ravi’s law firm, said. “Further, you have also contacted Yong Vui Kong and his brother who had both confirmed our Mr Ravi’s appointment as Yong’s new Counsel.”

The letter reminded the PS that it had violated Yong’s fundamental right to Counsel with the delay and that this was more “perturbing” as Yong was facing execution. The letter said the firm would apply for a writ of Habeas Corpus if it does not receive a response from the PS promptly and that it “will look to the prison for any infringements of our client’s fundamental liberties.”

Earlier, Yong’s brother issued a letter of apology to the people of Singapore for his brother’s “wrongdoings” and appealed that his brother be given a second chance.

“Although the chances of escaping death are very slim,” Yong’s brother says, “I hope that all of you would give him a new lease of life and hope that Vui Kong would have an opportunity to live again and under the yellow ribbon scheme, he would be able to learn a skill in prison and make some contributions to society in the future.”

About a month ago, members of the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign sent a petition, with nearly 100 signatures, to the President to seek clemency for Yong.

The group has not received any response from the President’s office so far.

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Watch the videos of the World Day Against The Death Penalty (Singapore) forum held in Oct 2009.

Picture from Straits Times.

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