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Vui Kong’s family pleads at Istana (Full report)

Andrew Loh

The family of Yong Vui Kong has been working hard these past two months – hitting the streets in both Singapore and Malaysia to collect signatures for a petition begging President SR Nathan to spare Vui Kong's life.

Activists in Malaysia have rallied to their cause.  By 10 am this morning, the campaign had collected a total of 109 346 signatures.  Among those who signed were 44 Members of Parliament and 15 senators in Malaysia.

Vui Kong's father and six siblings delivered the petition and signatures to the Istana earlier today. They were accompanied by Sabah MP Datuk Chua Soon Bui, some close relatives, as well as lawyers M Ravi and Ngeow Chow Ying.

The family was not able to hand the petition to guards at the front gates of the Istana and had to use an alternative entrance 15 minutes away. The group walked uphill, in the blazing heat to this other gate where they were met by Security Officer, Corporal Marcus Chong [picture, right]. He took the files of signatures and told the family, “You may leave now.”

Vui Kong's father, Mr Yong Kwong Keong, had prepared a personal message for President Nathan. Corporal Chong was asked to help pass this on but declined to do so, instead asking repeatedly for the family to vacate the area.

Mr Yong broke down in tears and the family knelt down in front of the gates.  They remained there for several minutes before guards ordered them to leave.

At a press conference held later, Mr Ravi expressed disappointment over how the Yong family was treated at the Istana . “We are also faced with the unfortunate circumstance that we have to go to the Istana,” he said, “even though the courts have said that the President has no power.”

Datuk Chua urged President Nathan and the Cabinet to give Vui Kong's case due consideration before making a final decision. She also questioned a decision by prison authorities to deny her request to visit Vui Kong on Monday. The Online Citizen understands two of his aunts were also denied access, although a cousin was granted entry.

“I feel the authorities should be more human,” Datuk Chua said. “This case is a special case. We don't know how long before [Vui Kong’s] life is terminated. The family members and I came here just to see Vui Kong. We feel this is not too much to ask.”

The deadline for Vui Kong to submit his clemency appeal to the President is Thursday, 26 August.

However, when handing down his decision on Mr Ravi's application for a judicial review of the clemency process, Justice Steven Chong had “invited” the Singapore Prison Service to extend the stay of execution as he said he expected Mr Ravi to appeal his judgement.

Mr Ravi has requested confirmation of the extension from the Prison Service, however, as of Tuesday, 24 August, he has yet to receive a response.

Vui Kong was arrested in June, 2007. He was 18 and a half years old then. The Singapore courts subsequently sentenced him to death for trafficking 47g of heroin into Singapore. He was originally scheduled to hang on 4 December last year, but since then, his lawyer, M Ravi, has managed to obtain two stays of executions.

In the past few weeks, the Yong family, as well as campaigners in both Malaysia and Singapore have worked round the clock, organising public forums and collecting signatures online and on the streets, to appeal to President Nathan to spare Vui Kong's life.

Several non-governmental organisations are backing the campaign. These include the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia, Amnesty International Malaysia, Lawyers For Liberty, Amnesty Hong Kong and the Singapore Anti-death Penalty Campaign.

The Malaysian government added its voice to the call for clemency when it sent a letter of appeal to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 29. The Singapore government however has yet to respond to the letter. A spokesman for the ministry told the media that “[the] letter of appeal has been referred to the legal authorities.”

The campaign to save Vui Kong does not end today. "We will continue to collect signatures until the President makes a decision," said Ms Ngeow.

“As long as there's time, even if there's just one second left,” said Yun Leong, “we will all still work hard for Vui Kong.”

Members of the public who wish to sign the petition may do so online here.

Special thanks to Lynn Lee.

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Read also:

Paris - Kuala Lumpur, 25 August 2010 :

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), representing 164 organisations across the world, calls on the Singaporean authorities to uphold the right to life, as enshrined in international law, and urges HE S. R. Nathan, President of Singapore, to exercise his constitutional power to grant a pardon to Mr. Yong Vui Kong, a 22-year-old Malaysian national, who has been sentenced to death by hanging. (Full report here.)

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Some pictures from this morning:

More pictures, by Damien Chng: