Finally, reprieve for a father’s grief

M Ravi breaking the news to Mr Cheong
M Ravi breaking the news to Mr Cheong

“I am very happy,” Mr Cheong Kah Pin said, as he wipes away tears from his eyes.

These are words you would never hear from Mr Cheong, who is now 60-years old.

He has been campaigning through any means he knew to save his 30-year old son, Chun Yin, from Singapore’s death row since 2008.

Chun Yin had been sentenced to death by hanging for trafficking heroin into Singapore.

“I would like to thank everyone who has helped save my son,” Mr Cheong said on Thursday, when he was informed that the Attorney General (AG) had sent a letter to the Registrar of Singapore’s High Court indicating that Chun Yin has “substantively assisted” the police in disrupting drug syndicates’ activities outside of Singapore.

This is one of two conditions which drug traffickers have to fulfil in order to be granted a Certificate of Cooperation.

The first condition was that the inmate has to admit to being a drug courier.

The certificate would then enable the inmate to apply to the courts for resentencing, in effect commuting his death sentenced to life imprisonment and mandatory caning.

Since Chun Yin’s arrest, Mr Cheong has been tireless in his effort to save his son, and has often cried whenever he spoke of Chun Yin being on death row.

“How can I not be heartbroken?” he says. “This is the only son I have by my side.”

Chun Yin was helping him run his market – or pasar malam – stall in Johor Baru where Mr Cheong sells fruits and vegetables he grows on his own, on a plot of land which a friend has given him to manage.

But since Chun Yin’s arrest and incarceration, life has been even tougher for Mr Cheong.

He had to live alone, since his other children live elsewhere in Malaysia.

In order to take his mind off the pain of always being reminded of the plight of his son, Mr Cheong would take on extra jobs to keep himself occupied.

“I don’t want to stay at home, staring at the ceiling and crying,” he said in 2011.

“What meaning would there be left for me, if I were left alone?” he asked. “A good, healthy child, used by others because he was too gullible,” he said of Chun Yin, his eldest child. “Life will have no meaning for me if I were left alone.”

Yet, every Monday, without fail, he would make the journey to Singapore’s Changi Prison to visit his son. And often, he would advise Chun Yin to stay away from trouble in prison, so that he will be able to get early release.

That’s the hope Mr Cheong has always kept in his heart.

“I have prayed to deities,” he said on Thursday, with eyes which tell of relief. “And my friends have also helped me pray to deities to help my son.”

This hope has seen Mr Cheong go the lengths to do just about anything a father would do for a son in trouble.

He has approached the media in both Singapore and Malaysia, held press conference, appealed to politicians on both sides of the Causeway for help, worked with activists who did what they could, supported petition drives by well-meaning groups and individuals.

He has petitioned the president of Singapore, gone to the Istana, and knelt at its doors, pleading with tears running down his eyes for a second chance for his son.

He has also gone to the meet-the-people session of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also the Home Affairs minister, to beg for help.

Mr Teo had helped Mr Cheong write a letter and helped him send it to the authorities.

Mr Cheong lives for his son and would, on a moment’s notice, drop everything if there were news of Chun Yin, just as he did on Thursday evening, when he was told that there were new developments regarding his son’s case.

He got on his motorcycle immediately and drove down to Singapore – along with a bag of lemons and lime from his small farm.

Mr Cheong may not have a lot of money, in fact he doesn’t, but he more than makes up for this through the fruits of his labour which he carries with him each time he comes to Singapore, to give to those who help keep the flame of hope alive for his son and him.

And grasping to that last sliver of hope is now, perhaps, vindicated.

“[Chun Yin] has a chance to live now,” says his lawyer, M Ravi, who worked on the case pro-bono.

Chun Yin’s case will now go before the sentencing judge on a date to be fixed.

The AG is expected not to object to Chun Yin’s application to be re-sentenced.

“We are so happy and appreciate [sic],” Chun Yin’s younger sister, Jesleen, said when she first heard the news on Thursday evening.

“I keep calling my dad, want to inform him but couldn’t get him. I will try again and again. Thank you, all of you, thank you everyone. Thank you very much.”

Even though that message was related online through a friend, you could almost see the relief on her face.

“My sister told my mom already, she feel happy and thank you all of you to help us and my brother,” she said in another message a few minutes later.

“We really appreciate you all, thank you all of you again. It is the best present to my brother who birthday on 7 sept and to us.”

It is an unimaginable pain to bear for a father whose son is sentenced to death, especially when the fight to save him drags on for years.

But that too shows the extraordinary strength and love of Mr Cheong for his son.

“What meaning would there be for me if Chun Yin should die?” he said. “I have already decided that I would leave this earth if that happened.”

Now, however, Mr Cheong finally has reprieve from the burden he has carried since 2008.

Below is a short video interview with Mr Cheong which TOC held with him on Thursday evening.

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