Death row case: Malaysian Law Minister’s puzzling about-turn

– By Andrew Loh

Malaysian Law Minister, Nazri Aziz, has made a turnaround about meeting Mr Madasamy Ravi, the lawyer for Yong Vui Kong who is on death row in Singapore.

On 19 June, Malaysiakini reported that he had asked to meet with Mr Ravi about the case. Yong, who is a Malaysian, faces death by hanging in Singapore for drug trafficking.

Three days earlier, on 16 June, Mr Nazri was reported to have said that he was not aware of Yong’s situation. This was met with anger and shock by Malaysian lawyers and activists. Two days later, on 18 June, representatives from the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore visited Yong in Changi Prison. This was the first time that Malaysian representatives had done so.

In the event, Mr Ravi and Yong himself were cheered and hopeful that the Malaysian authorities have finally taken an interest in his case.

However, this latest news that the Law Minister no longer is interested in meeting with Mr Ravi comes as a great disappointment to Mr Ravi. It would seem that the Malaysians would no longer support Mr Ravi’s call to bring the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“Yong Vui Kong has another avenue which is the ICJ, which is now closed on him,” said Mr Ravi. He is disappointed that the Malaysians are not even interested in finding out about the details of Yong’s case. This is a marked contrast to how the Malaysian government went all out to plead for the life of Umi Azlim Mohamad Lazim. Lazim, a university science graduate from a poor Malay family of rice farmers, admitted to carrying 2.9 kilograms of heroin in her luggage when she was arrested at China’s Shantou airport in 2007 (see here and here).

The case generated much public attention and it was reported that: “Politicians have set aside their differences to halt Lazim’s execution. The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its rival the Islamic fundamentalist Pan Malaysian Islamic Party are even vying in their efforts.”

China eventually commuted Lazim’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

Some have questioned if the government is discriminating against Yong Vui Kong (read here).

The Malaysian Law Minister’s initial invitation to Mr Ravi was made on 19 June. His sudden about-turn in cancelling the meeting is puzzling. No reasons were given, as far as TOC understands.

Incidentally, Mr Ravi was informed of Mr Nazri’s change of mind after Singapore’s Prime Minister and Law Minister paid a one-day visit to Malaysia on 22 June. The visit was to conclude a deal on exchanging land parcels between the two sides.

In 2006, the Malaysian Bar Council voted overwhelmingly for the death penalty to be abolished and for a moratorium on all executions. The vote was passed by a 105-2 majority, with 21 abstentions.

However, despite this, Malaysia continues to impose the mandatory death penalty on certain offences, including drug trafficking.

What is next for Yong? Mr Ravi says despite the latest setback, he will continue with his efforts to save his client from the gallows. His next step is to file for Judicial Review with the Singapore courts and to submit a clemency appeal to the President, which he must do by 28 August.

In the meantime, Singapore’s mainstream media has kept a virtual silence on the issue.

Malaysiakini, a Malaysian news portal, has reported that ” [a]regional human rights group based in Bangkok has denounced Singapore’s imposition of mandatory death penalty on 22-year-old Malaysian Yong Vui Kong.” (read here).

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