By Andrew Loh
“Xie xie. Xie xie ni men,” Mr Cheong Kah Pin said to me as he shook my hand. He was thanking us for trying to save his son from being hanged in Singapore. “I hope the Singapore government will give my son another chance,” he added.
“Go home and rest,” I said to him. “We will do our best.”
Mr Cheong had arrived in Kuala Lumpur at about 4am and had spent the night on the streets.
“I will be picking durians tonight,” Mr Cheong replied. “I didn’t collect them yesterday, so I need to go pick them today.”
Mr Cheong sells vegetables and fruits whenever they are in season, to supplement his income as a garang guni man.
He told me it is better for him to be working than to be at home all alone. The thought of his eldest son facing death is one which brings tears to his eyes each time he thinks of it.
As he turned and walked away, to make the long journey back from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru, it is clear that Mr Cheong carries a heavy burden on his shoulder. It is one he has had to bear with the last 5 years, since his then-22-year old eldest son, Chun Yin, was arrested in Singapore for trafficking in drugs.
Mr Cheong had come to Kuala Lumpur for a press conference called by Malaysian activists, and Members of Parliament, to bring awareness to Chun Yin’s case. Also at the press conference was Singapore’s foremost human rights lawyer, M Ravi.
Mr Ravi has been involved in the case since last year, after Chun Yin’s appeal was dismissed by the courts, and his appeal for presidential clemency rejected.
Chun Yin now sits on death row in Singapore’s Changi Prison, awaiting the day they will tie the noose around his neck and hang him till he dies.
But Chun Yin has always maintained his innocence, saying that he had thought what he was asked to carry to Singapore were gold bars. It is a stance which he has adhered to till this day.
When the Singapore government introduced amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) last year, there appeared a glimmer of hope for Chun Yin. The amendments allow a drug trafficker to be spared the death sentence if he is proved to be only a courier, and that he has rendered “substantive assistance” to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) leading to the disruption of the drug syndicates.
However, Mr Ravi told The Online Citizen that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has denied Chun Yin the Certificate of Co-operation. The certificate is to certify that an inmate has indeed fulfilled the two criterias and it allows him to apply to the courts for re-sentencing, to a mandatory life sentence and mandatory caning.
Being denied the certificate means Chun Yin’s final appeal would be to the president.
What makes Chun Yin’s case unusual, however, is that he has fulfilled the first criteria – that of being a courier. In fact, it is the AGC itself which has proved him as such, even as Chun Yin insists on his innocence.
It is the second criteria which is now the matter of contention.
When he was arrested in 2008, Chun Yin said he had provided all the information he knew to the police, including giving the police the name and the telephone number of one “Lau De”, whom Chun Yin said was the one who had arranged for him to carry the “gold bars”, hidden in a luggage bag, into Singapore.
During his original trial, it was revealed that the police had failed to follow through on this piece of information.
The presiding judge, Choo Han Teck, decided that it was irrelevant to the case whether the CNB had followed through on the information provided by Chun Yin.
“It was immaterial that the CNB had not make adequate efforts to trace “Lau De’ or check on his cellphones,” Justice Choo said in his unusually short one and half page judgement condemning Chun Yin to death.
The judge was right in saying that it was immaterial whether the CNB had followed through on the information given to them, as the then drugs Act did not allow the judge to take mitigating factors into consideration when passing sentence in capital drug cases.
However, the amendments made to the MDA in 2012 by Parliament now makes this point a crucial one – for it potentially shows that Chun Yin had helped the CNB by providing critical information which, if acted upon, could have led to the disruption of the drug syndicates – which is the second criteria Chun Yin had to fulfil in order to be considered for the Certificate of Co-operation.
Chun Yin’s life, in fact, could turn on this.
Chun Yin had provided the police with a description of “Lau De”, and had given the police the phone number of “Lau De”.
In a letter to the CNB in February this year, Mr Ravi highlighted this.
Mr Ravi wrote:
“Upon his arrest, Mr Cheong [Chun Yin] indicated to CNB officers which number in his mobile could be used to reach “Lau De”, the man who Cheong states hired him to smuggle gold bars into Singapore.
“However, further evidence from the CNB forensics department and officer’s testimony reveals that the mobile phone confiscated from Mr Cheong was not examined by the CNB until October 2008; this was almost four months after his arrest. The examination of his SIM card was not complete until eight months after the mobile devices were confiscated by the CNB.
“When ASP Gary CHAN testified in Court on efforts to trace Lau De through a mobile trace, he produced two names, “Ali” and “Chong Min Sin” and then admits to making no further efforts to ascertain the identity of Lau De.”
Chun Yin’s case has raised some very serious questions about the amendments to the MDA. Among these is: Should an inmate’s life depend on the competence or incompetence of the police in following through on information provided by the inmate?
In fact, Justice Choo himself recently said the new process under the amended MDA “poses difficulties”.
For example, in order for a drug trafficker to be considered for the Certificate of Co-operation, he has to first admit to being a courier. What happens if the accused’s defence was that he was innocent? Would it not mean that he is required to recant his claim to innocence in order to be considered for the certificate? And what if someone is genuinely innocent?
According to a Straits Times’ report on Justice Choo’s concerns, it said:
“Justice Choo noted that if evidence relating to whether the accused was a courier is introduced after conviction, it was possible the new evidence could differ from the judge’s original findings or even cast doubts on the accused’s guilt.
“However, if he did not allow new evidence, this might prejudice the accused, making it impossible for him to prove he was just a courier.”
TOC understands that Mr Ravi will be filing an application on these questions with the courts in about a month’s time.
In the meantime, Mr Cheong carries on with that little sliver of hope – that his son will be spared.
“He had been helping me run my pasar malam stall,” Mr Cheong tells me. “He is a good boy. When I visit him in prison, he tells me not to worry. But I told him, ‘You’re sentenced to death, how can I not worry?”
As he takes that long journey back to Johor Baru, one can only wonder what Mr Cheong will be thinking, as he looks out the window, knowing that the next time he touches his son could be when Chun Yin is sent to him in a bag.
But for now, the father will spare no effort, no matter how small, to keep this from becoming reality.