Lawyer urges Malaysian government to intervene in death row case

Andrew Loh

The lawyer for Yong Vui Kong, who is on death row in Singapore, has urged the Malaysian government to intervene in the case. “The reason I have come to Malaysia,” said Mr Madasamy Ravi, “is to ask for your help in making clear to the Singapore government that you will not tolerate the execution of a young Malaysian boy in this case because he has been denied an opportunity to persuade the President to grant the clemency.”

Mr Ravi was speaking at a press conference on Thursday, June 10, at the office of the Malaysian Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur.

Yong was arrested in 2007 and was subsequently charged and sentenced to death in Singapore for trafficking in 47g of heroin. His appeal to the Singapore Court of Appeal was rejected on 14 May this year.

At the press conference, Mr Ravi laid out his reasons why he is asking for the Malaysian government to intervene. He cited two incidences which he feels warrant the authorities in Malaysia to bring the case to the International Court of Justice.

The first incident took place on 15 March during the Court of Appeal hearing itself. Attorney General Walter Woon, in addressing the issue of a presidential clemency appeal, revealed that “although in theory it’s the President who exercises the prerogative of mercy, it is the Cabinet who makes the decision”.

“What is so startling about this disclosure,” Mr Ravi explained,  “is that Article 22(p) of the Constitution clearly states that ‘such sentence has been confirmed by the appellate court, the President shall cause the reports which are made to him by the Judge who tried the case and the Chief Justice or other presiding Judge of the appellate court to be forwarded to the Attorney-General with instructions that, after the Attorney-General has given his opinion thereon, the reports shall be sent, together with the Attorney-General’s opinion, to the Cabinet so that the Cabinet may advise the President  on the exercise of the power conferred on him by clause (1)’.”

“The most senior law officer of the State is on record as saying that it is the Cabinet that makes the decision. You might think that nothing can be much worse than that. The Attorney-General himself enunciates a distortion of the Constitution,” said Mr Ravi.

The second incident took place on 9 May 2010. Law Minister, Mr K Shanmugam, had publicly commented on Yong’s case – a week before the Court of Appeal was to render its judgement on Yong’s appeal – at a dialogue session with residents of his ward.

The minister said:

“Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say we let you go what’s the signal we’re sending? We’re sending a signal to all drug barons out there…just make sure you choose a victim who’s young or a mother of a young child and use them as the people to carry drugs into Singapore. With the sympathy generated after these people are caught he added, there will be a whole unstoppable stream of people coming through as long as we won’t enforce our laws”.

Mr Ravi feels that such remarks by a member of the Singapore cabinet prejudice the appeal process because “the senior Cabinet minister has said he should hang even before he [Yong] has presented his petition [to the president].”

“We all know that drug trafficking attracts the mandatory death sentence in Singapore and Malaysia,” he said. “That is not an issue here.”

“What we have thought is that after you have been sentenced to death by the Court you could try to persuade the President to commute your sentence. What we now know is that the President does not decide the petition, the Cabinet decides it,” Mr Ravi said.

“And in Yong Vui Kong’s case, the senior Cabinet minister has said he should hang even before he has presented his petition.  Now that we know that the Cabinet makes the decision and now we know, at least from a key member of the Cabinet, why the clemency process has been tainted with biasness and is rendered ineffective.

“He cannot even look for a real decision by the President but only by [the] Cabinet. But [the] Cabinet has already spoken and said no. This offends the rules of natural justice, due process and the Constitution which itself grants the right to seek clemency from the President.”

In light of these, Mr Ravi urges the Malaysian government to exercise its sovereign powers “on behalf of its own national who is being denied elemental fairness.”

“As a sovereign state, Malaysia has to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a determination whether the conduct of Singapore constitutes a violation of local and international law and seek a judgment thereupon.”


The press conference:


The Straits Times, the main broadsheet in Singapore, carried a report on Mr Ravi’s press conference on Friday, 11 June, on page C15. The report was published at the bottom of the page.

In its report, by Elizabeth Looi, the Straits Times curiously left out entirely the details of Mr Ravi’s reasons and explanation for seeking the Malaysian government’s intervention.

We publish it below for readers to decide for themselves.

Read also: Prejudicing a fair trial? The Yong Vui Kong’s case by Pritam Singh.

The Straits Times’ report: