By Andrew Loh –
Before he passed the death sentence on Malaysian Yong Vui Kong in January 2009 for drug trafficking, trial judge Choo Han Teck reportedly summoned the prosecution and defence into his chambers and asked the prosecution if it would consider reducing the charge to a non-capital one, given that Yong was only 19-years old then.
The prosecution declined – and Yong was subsequently sentenced to death. It was, under the circumstances, the only and mandatory sentence judge Choo could mete out.
Two days before Yong was scheduled to be hanged on 4 December 2009, his lawyer, M Ravi, made a last ditch attempt to have Yong’s execution stayed.
Mr Ravi, who had then just been appointed by Yong’s family to be his lawyer, launched an appeal based on a constitutional challenge to the law on the mandatory death penalty practised by Singapore. The court allowed a hearing into his challenge, which subsequently took place in March 2010.
However, the case was dismissed and the court upheld Yong’s death sentence for trafficking 47.27g of heroin into Singapore in 2008.
But that was not the end of the matter as Mr Ravi, Yong’s family, activists and supporters – both local and overseas – continued their campaign to save Yong from the gallows.
The campaign has lasted four years, and involved politicians from both sides of the Causeway, and lawyers in London chipping in as well. At home, anti-death penalty advocates and bloggers took up Yong’s case. Even members of the public stepped forth to show support.
In what has turned out to be a landmark and unusual case, Yong made two appeals for clemency to the president, and caused a rethink of the application of the mandatory death penalty in Singapore. It led eventually to changes made by the government in November 2012 to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), allowing those convicted and condemned to death row a chance at reprieve if they met certain conditions.
It is because of these changes that there is at last some light at the end of the tunnel for Yong and those who have dedicated themselves to preserving his life.
The Attorney General’s Chambers on Wednesday said that the Public Prosecutor will certify to the High Court that two drug traffickers who have been sentenced to death – Subashkaran s/o Pragasam and Yong – have “substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore.” This is one of the conditions to be met before anyone is allowed to apply for his death sentence to be commuted by the courts.
The AGC would need to provide a Certificate of Cooperation (CoC) which will enable the inmate to make an application to the courts for resentencing. The inmate will still have to convince the courts that “on a balance of probabilities, his role in the offence is restricted only to that of a courier, which in essence, is a person whose role is confined to transporting, sending or delivering a controlled drug, and who does not play any other role within the drug syndicate.”
If the judge concurs, under the amended legislations, the courts have the discretion to commute the death sentence to a mandatory life imprisonment with caning of “at least 15 strokes.”
Mr Ravi told The Online Citizen (TOC) that he will be informing Yong about this latest development on Friday, when he visits him in prison.
Wednesday’s news was welcomed by those involved in the campaign.
Ms Rachel Zeng, a member of the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) which stuck with the campaign all four years, paid tribute to M Ravi.
“Without him, Vui Kong and many others on death row might not have been here with us today and no amendments to both the Penal Code and Misuse of Drugs Act would have seen the light of day.”
She says however that the latest development is only half a battle won.
“[We] await the good news that will result from the review because we certainly believe that Vui Kong stands a good chance to have his death sentence commuted.”
Another group involved with the campaign, We Believe In Second Chances (WBSC), believes that given Yong’s youth, family background and the remorse that he has shown, the mitigating factors in favour of a reduction of his sentence to life imprisonment with caning are highly persuasive.
“[We] hope that the Court will take these into account when reviewing his sentence,” Mr Damien Chng, member of WBSC, told TOC.
Yong’s youngest sister, Vui Fung, said she is relieved that her brother’s life now has a good chance of being spared. The shy 23-year old, who works in Singapore, teared when she was told of the news and shown a copy of the letter from the Public Prosecutor on Wednesday.
She had campaigned to save her brother from being hanged since his incarceration. When she visited Yong in Changi Prison last week, she told him not to lose hope, and to spend his time learning as much as he can. Yong, she said, asked her to buy him an English dictionary and some books.
“He is now very thin,” she said. “Tall and thin.”
She expressed her deep gratitude to Mr Ravi, whom she said has been tireless in his efforts to save her brother, and the activists here and in Malaysia.
Her elder brother, Yong Yun Leong, who also works in Singapore, was told of the news this afternoon. He has been at the forefront of the campaign to save his brother.
“We are very grateful today to Vui Kong, his family & anti-death penalty advocates in Singapore & around the world for never giving up on the possibility that Yong could live,” Mr Ravi said in a statement today. “We now have another day in Court to make the case that Vui Kong’s life should be spared.”
Mr Ravi will be filing the resentencing application next week. It will then be up to judge Choo, the original trial judge in the case, to make the decision whether to spare Yong’s life.
After a relentless 4-year campaign by M Ravi and activists, Yong Vui Kong finally has a chance.
Here is a short message from M Ravi:
For a more detailed account of the campaign to save Yong Vui Kong, visit these sites: