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Yong Vui Kong gets temporary reprieve. Koh Yina.

High Court grants rare stay of execution

Breaking News:
TOC has learned that the Attorney-General has filed an application to quash the stay of execution which the High Court granted to Yong Vui Kong on 2 December. The AG's application will be heard on Tuesday, 8 Dec. DPP Jaswant Singh says the judge had no jurisdiction to hear the Criminal Motion on 2 Dec and that "the order of a stay of execution was wrong in law". (You can join the Facebook group in support of Vui Kong's lawyer, M Ravi, here.)

Koh Yi Na

Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian who was due to hang this Friday for  drug trafficking, has been granted a stay of execution.

At a High Court hearing today, Justice Woo Bih Li allowed the postponement of the 21-year-old’s execution, pending a hearing before the Court of Appeal to be held next Tuesday.

Yong had received the death sentence last November, after being found guilty of trafficking 47g of heroin in June 2007. He was 19 years old at the time of arrest.

His execution was scheduled to be carried out this Friday after his petition for clemency was rejected by the President on November 20.

Representing Yong, Mr M Ravi of LF Violet Netto, argued that executing Yong before his appeal was heard violated his constitutional rights. The Court of Appeal have yet to hear Yong’s case, as it was withdrawn by his previous counsel, who had been assigned by the State.

As the Court of Appeal is currently on vacation and unable to convene (see note below), Mr Ravi asked the High Court to grant a stay of execution for Yong, until his application for an extension of time and a full appeal can be heard.

After hearing arguments presented by both the defence and the prosecution, Justice Woo accepted Mr Ravi’s request.

The news came as a relief to two of Yong’s elder brothers who were present at the hearing. His mother, elder sister and brother, and a cousin arrived from Sabah today, but were not in time to attend today's court session. They met Yong at the Changi Prison Link Centre later in afternoon.

Yong’s older brother, Yun Leong, told The Online Citizen that his mother had been unaware of Yong’s conviction and death sentence.

The 24-year-old, who currently works in Singapore, said in Mandarin: “We’ve kept this from her for almost three years. Because his execution date is coming soon, we felt that she needed to know.”

“My sister broke the news to her yesterday, but she only said that Vui Kong ran into trouble and is in jail in Singapore.

“My mother doesn’t know that he was involved in drug trafficking and had received a death sentence, and Vui Kong wanted to tell her himself,” he added.

Throughout most of the hearing, Yong sat with his head bowed, speaking only occasionally to his interpreter and the police officers who accompanied him. He showed little emotion and only nodded when the interpreter explained the judge’s decision to him. But he broke down after the judge granted a stay of execution.

According to Yun Leong, Yong’s conversion to Buddhism whilst in prison helped him to come to terms with his sentence. He had earlier instructed his state-assigned lawyer to withdraw his appeal because he “knew he was guilty and wanted to get it over with”.

He later applied for a stay of execution in order to allow himself the time to speak to his mother for the last time, and for his final appeal to be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Yong, sixth of seven children, was raised in Sandakan, Sabah. His parents divorced when he was three, leaving his mother to raise him. She worked as a dishwasher during his childhood, while the family lived with his paternal grandfather in his palm oil estate.

As a child, he was made to work in the estate, and was frequently abused by his grandfather. After turning 10, he began taking on odd jobs to supplement his family’s income. Unable to cope with the demands of education and work, he dropped out of school two years later.

At 15, he left for Kota Kinabalu to work for two months, where he saved up for a plane ticket to Kuala Lumpur. There, he worked as an apprentice cook at a Chinese restaurant, where he was often underpaid and discriminated against due to his being from Sabah.

According to his brother, Yong then got involved with friends in secret societies, and fell under the influence of drug syndicates who used him as a drug mule to transport illegal substances across the border to Singapore.

Yun Leong added that Yong had been aware that the packages he received contained drugs, but he was assured by his superiors that these drugs were of an insufficient quantity to warrant the death penalty.

On June 10, 2007, Yong flew back to Sabah from Johor to celebrate his mother’s birthday. Two days later, he was arrested near the Meritus Mandarin Hotel in Singapore.

According to Yong’s petition for clemency that was submitted to the President, the trial judge, Justice Choo Han Teck, had called both the defence and prosecution into chambers before the commencement of the trial and noted Yong’s relatively young age at the time of the offence.

Justice Choo then asked the Prosecution to consider reducing the capital charge to a non-capital one. The prosecution declined.

Yong thus received a mandatory death penalty upon his conviction for trafficking heroin under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Note: M Ravi told the judge he had been told this by the registrar but the DPP claimed instead that the registrar had told him the Court of Appeal is avalaible. It is thus unclear if the judges are indeed on vacation. However, the one-week stay of execution perhaps confirms that they are.

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Picture from Yawning Bread: Another teenager caught, set to hang