Shopping for death row


By Rachel Zeng

Working on Kho Jabing’s case hasn’t been a walk in the park. I would describe the days between 2 to 5 November as an intense week that ended with a glimmer of hope. Although his execution has been stayed, my mind can’t help but go back to the series of events that occurred in the evening of the day his scheduled execution was announced.

When I arrived at the backpackers’ hostel in the evening on 2 November, Jumai’s eyes were red from crying, and Lenduk was in a daze. Earlier in the day, they had received the news that Kho Jabing’s execution was scheduled to be carried out on Friday. It was a piece of news that they had dreaded, ever since Jabing’s death sentence was passed in 2010. It was a piece of news that made me rush to the hostel as soon as I could after work.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to explore the possibilities of other legal avenues to halt the execution. Jumai, Lenduk, a volunteer who was helping us out as an interpreter, Priscilla from We Believe in Second Chances, and I met up with Jabing’s legal team and some members of the Malaysian High Commission. During the meeting, details of the funeral arrangement were discussed. It was distressing to see Jumai and Lenduk so devastated, despite their best attempt to pull themselves together.

On top of making arrangements for the impending funeral and repatriation of the body to Miri for burial, they needed to prepare a set of clothes and shoes for the last photoshoot, in which Jabing will be photographed in civilian clothes. The photographs will then be given to the family after the execution. It is a bizarre practice that has been going on for years, in a prison that rarely allows loved ones and death row inmates to spend time together without a glass panel separating them, even until the final visit.

We brought Jumai and Lenduk to Mustafa Centre. When we reached the shopping mall, we were surrounded by shoppers who were shopping for either themselves, or someone they knew. Many of them looked cheerful and relaxed, and for the keen observer, we must have been the unhappiest group of shoppers that night.

Once we located the men’s wear department, Jumai took charge of selecting whatever was needed and checked if they fitted her brother, while the rest of us helped to locate the categories of items that were required. Lenduk followed us around in silence most of the time, with a cheerless expression on her face.

Although I have never thought much about shopping, I kept wondering how it must have been like for Lenduk to be part of this whole charade of doing something as ordinary as shopping, but doing it for a reason that was not quite ordinary – the preparation of her only son’s last photoshoot, which was to happen a day before his execution.

It must have been the saddest shopping trip of her life.