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Sister of death row inmate – “Are you helping good people or bad people?”

Kirsten Han /

The family of a Malaysian man sentenced to death for trafficking drugs into Singapore has made an emotional plea for his life. At a press conference held in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, relatives of Cheong Chun Yin said authorities should reopen the case as there could have been a miscarriage of justice.

“I want to ask Singapore – this drug law of yours, is it to deal with the villains or the victims like us?” Chun Yin’s sister Joanne Cheong told reporters yesterday. “Are you helping good people or bad people?”

Organised by the Save Vui Kong Campaign the press conference was attended by Cheong’s family, lawyer and campaign coordinator Ngeow Chow Ying and Executive Director of Amnesty International, Nora Murat. They were later joined by Malaysian Member of Parliament, Gwo-Burne Loh.

Cheong’s arrest

Cheong Chun Yin, a Malaysian from Johor Bahru, sold VCDs and DVDs with his father in morning and night markets. While tending his stall, he got to know a man by the name of “Lau De”, who was a regular customer. “Lau De” wanted Cheong to help him smuggle gold bars.

Cheong was initially reluctant, but after continued insistence from “Lau De”, he eventually agreed to go to Myanmar. “Lau De” told him that the reason for smuggling the gold bars was to evade tax, and if he were caught, he would only be given a fine, which “Lau De” would take care of.

Upon receiving a suitcase in Myanmar, Cheong examined it and felt hard objects hidden in the lining. He assumed that these objects were the gold bars. He did not cut open the lining to take a look, as he did not want to be held responsible should anything have gone missing.

Cheong flew to Singapore on 16 June 2008, where he met Pang Siew Fum. He handed the suitcase over to her and left by taxi.

He was arrested as he was alighting from a taxi at Arab Street. He was then taken to Pang’s flat, where the suitcase he had handed over was revealed to have 2,726 grams of heroin hidden in a false bottom.

Lack of effort by CNB “immaterial”

In his statements to the investigating officer, Cheong claimed that he did not know that the suitcase had contained drugs, as he had believed himself to be smuggling gold bars.

He also willingly gave the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers detailed descriptions of “Lau De”, as well as the mobile phone numbers he had used to get in touch with him.

However, the CNB officers did not attempt to contact or trace “Lau De”.

High Court Judge Choo Han Teck sentenced both Cheong and Pang to death on 4 February 2010.

In his written judgement, Judge Choo stated, “I did not find his [Cheong] testimony convincing and I was of the view that his evidence did not create any reasonable doubt in my mind that he might not have known that he was carrying heroin.”

Judge Choo then went on to say, “It was immaterial that the CNB did not make adequate efforts to trace ‘Lau De’ or check on his cell-phones. The absence of any trace of ‘Lau De’… was not taken as evidence in favour of or against either accused.”

The Court of Appeal dismissed Cheong’s appeal in October 2010. The Court of Appeal has, to date, not produced its grounds of judgement.

Lack of effort by relevant authority “disturbing”

“We find the lack of effort by the relevant authority in tracing and tracking down ‘Lau De’ very disturbing,” said Amnesty’s Nora Murat.

“In view of the irreversible nature of the death sentence, the Court must exercise the highest standard of care and proof in convicting the accused,” she added. “With due respect, we do not see this standard in Chun Yin’s judgement.”

Joanne Cheong expressed frustration at the lack of a proper investigation based on the information her brother had shared with the CNB.

“They are just taking lives without valuing the person,” she said. “This is the so-called just and fair law that the government has given us.”

“Just because the judge has said, ‘I don’t believe you’, my brother has been sentenced to death,” she added. “How can we be expected to accept this?”

[Picture right: Chun Yin's sister Joanne and their mother]

Death penalty has “no place in our society”

Ms Murat highlighted that Malaysia and Singapore are the only two countries in Southeast Asia with the Mandatory Death Penalty. According to Amnesty International’s recent report, there were 114 death sentences handed down in Malaysia and 8 handed down in Singapore in the year of 2010.

“As a developed nation we should stop having death penalty in any part of our legal system. It has no place in our society,” Ms Murat said.

MP Gwo-Burne Loh also expressed his opposition to the death penalty, saying that he had been submitting motions to Malaysia’s Parliament to debate the death penalty for the past three years.

“The governments both in Singapore and in Malaysia have shown a lack of interest to look into this matter and make sure that innocent people do not fall victim of the drug barons,” he said.

He urged the Malaysian government to intervene in Cheong’s case, and also asked that the Singapore government look into the case again.

“Even if you don’t believe he’s innocent, give a normal person a chance to defend themselves properly, with the police’s help to get the evidence,” he said.

Other death penalty cases

Another Malaysian, Yong Vui Kong, is also on death row in Singapore after being arrested in 2007 with 42.27 grams of heroin. His final appeal was dismissed on 4 April 2011 and he now has three months to file his clemency petition.

On 18 March 2011, the Shah Alam High Court in Malaysia handed down the death penalty to Singaporean single mother Noor Atiqah M. Lasim, after drugs were found in her luggage at the Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). Her family and friends are campaigning to raise awareness of her case.

Both Amnesty International and MP Loh have stated that they will be looking into all three cases, and supporting campaigns against the mandatory death penalty in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Read High Court Judge Choo Han Teck's written judgement page 1, page 2.