There must be room for mercy

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On Sunday, more than 150 people turned up at Speakers’ Corner to support the petition for clemency for death row inmate, 19-year old Malaysian Yong Vui Kong.

Despite the drizzle, both young and old were there to add their signatures to the call for clemency. The event was organized by the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty campaigners (SADPC) and The Online Citizen (TOC).

A total of about 150 signatures were collected and these will be added to the Malaysian campaigners’ petition which will be forwarded to the president of Singapore later this month.

Sunday’s event at Hong Lim Park was a marked improvement over the last event in 2009 – also in support of clemency for Yong - which saw some 40 people turn up.

Organisers were heartened by the turn-out on Sunday.

TOC’s chief editor, Andrew Loh, spoke on what the event was about. “Today is not about Vui Kong’s guilt. Today is not about whether the death penalty is right or needed,” he told the crowd in his speech. “Today is about mercy.” He urged for Vui Kong to be shown clemency despite what he had done – trafficking in 47.27g of heroin into Singapore in 2007.

“Vui Kong was just 19 when he committed the offence. His first offence,” Andrew said. He feels that at that age, such a person – who is also illiterate and comes from a poor family – would make mistakes, just like any other person of that age.

He argued that a justice system must also allow for mercy. “We are not here to talk about the legal process or Yong’s guilt. That has already been decided by the courts,” he said. “Do we have room for repentence, for conversion? Should our justice system not allow for these?”

“Hanging drug mules is not going to solve the problem. The drug barons and the drug lords – who live in their castles with their millions – will just find the next gullible, naïve and ignorant young person to do their dirty deeds. And we will hang the next young boy, and the next one, and the next one – while those who’re truly responsible get away.”

Andrew also asked the mainstream media in Singapore to report the story of Vui Kong so as to enable greater public debate on the issue. “Our media reports are so mechanical. Drug trafficker. Found guilty. Sentenced to death. Full stop.”

Japan just two days ago is putting the death penalty to a public debate,” Andrew said. “We should be doing the same. There is nothing wrong about talking about the death penalty,” he said. “If we are going to hang young boys, and the state will hang them in our names, we should know what the issues are. The media has a responsibility to let people know what these issues are and to allow debate on it.”

The lawyer for Vui Kong, M Ravi also addressed the crowd. He gave an update on Vui Kong’s case and took the opportunity to question  the mainstream media’s character assassination of him during previous cases which he was involved in. “What is the purpose of this character assassination?” he asked.  The media, he said, had mentioned his mother’s personal problems and his personal circumstances. He questions the motive for the media doing this.

Ravi, who a week ago was in Sabah to lend support to the campaign there, showed the audience some of the personal belongings of Vui Kong – such as his school books when Vui Kong was in primary school. “His mother has kept all these,” he explains.

He also spoke of the earlier event in 2009, also at Speakers' Corner, where about 40 people took a group picture showing support for Vui Kong. "He stared at the picture for 20 minutes," Ravi said, referring to Vui Kong's reaction when Ravi visited him and showed him the picture. "He looked at each one in the picture and tried to remember their names." Prison rules did not allow Vui Kong to keep the picture, which he desperately wanted to. "Vui Kong then wrote letters to express his gratitude to each one of the people in the picture," Ravi told the crowd. However, prison rules again did not allow these letters to be sent to them. (See here: A day for compassion.)

The event on Sunday culminated in a group photo of the participants.

Vui Kong’s brothers – Yun Leong and Yun Chong – were also at Speakers’ Corner. Also there to lend their support were Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, and Mr Alan Shadrake, author of the book on death penalty cases, Once A Jolly Hangman.

The campaigners are planning a second photo project called The Anti-Mandatory Death Penalty Photo Project. You can take a picture of yourself expressing support for clemency for Vui Kong and upload it on this Facebook page.

You can also sign the online petition here. It has garnered almost 13,000 signatures so far.

All of these will be sent to the president before 26 August, the deadline for submission of the clemency petition.

Read also: Give Vui Kong a second chance by Rachel Zeng.

Here are some more pictures from Sunday’s event.

Pictures by Han Thon.