A glimmer of hope has surfaced for a Singaporean woman facing the death penalty in China as two pro bono lawyers are pursuing the prospect of getting her case reviewed before the higher courts in the country.
35-year-old Siti Aslinda Binte Junaidi was handed down the death sentence for drug trafficking, which entails execution by shooting.
Ms Aslinda’s Singaporean lawyer, Mr Ravi of Carson Law Chambers told The Independent Singapore in an interview that one of the lawyers is in Shanghai while the other is from Hong Kong.
“Both of them don’t want their names to be disclosed and would like to work anonymously at this moment, given the sensitivities,” said Mr Ravi.
However, he noted that the lawyers are facing obstacles in visiting Ms Aslinda in prison, as “there are a lot of documents which the consular from Singapore needs” in the process of assisting the case.
“I understand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MFA] is trying to get the Consular in China to facilitate this,” said Mr Ravi, adding that there has been a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Ravi said that the MFA’s position, based on what Ms Aslinda’s daughter had informed him, is that “they prefer to speak to the family directly” regarding the issue.
Given the “further intervention” from Mr Ravi and his colleagues in China and further clarification, Mr Ravi said that Ms Aslinda now has two recourses.
“One is that her case can be reviewed by the court in Guangdong. And after that review, she has another opportunity before the Supreme Court of China to review the case,” he said.
Referencing the initial “panic” among Ms Aslinda’s family arising from her death sentence, Mr Ravi said: “I mean, any one of us would be very panic-stricken if our family member’s appeal has been dismissed or one is sentenced to death, especially in a foreign country where the family members have not even seen her for about five years and all they could rely on its information from Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
“At the moment, you know, all the anxiety of her being shot, that bit is now allayed … We hope that our team can get all the materials and meet Aslinda soon with the support and cooperation of the Singapore consular officer in China,” he stressed.
Initially difficult to find legal representation for Aslinda in China due to “ridiculous fees”: Lawyer M Ravi
Previously, Mr Ravi was quoted in a CNN report as saying that attempting to get a pro bono lawyer for Ms Aslinda in China has been a very challenging feat.
“It is so expensive to hire a lawyer in China. Some of them asked (for) ridiculous fees,” he added.
Noting that Ms Aslinda’s family is not able to afford to pay for her legal representation, Mr Ravi told CNN at the time: “I’ve been trying to liaise with some international networks I have to get a pro bono lawyer, but her case is (moving forward) and we don’t know when it might reach the next court.”
Following the CNN report, a lawyer has decided to represent Ms Aslinda pro bono.
Earlier on 14 December last year, Mr Ravi said that he has made “frantic efforts” to secure legal representation for Ms Aslinda with the assistance of Lyndon Lee, his colleague in China.
In a copy of a legal notice addressed to MFA, which was shared by Mr Ravi on 14 December, Carson Law Chambers stated that Ms Aslinda is “currently waiting for her case to be reviewed for appeal by the Guangdong High Court”.
In their letter to MFA, Carson Law Chambers sought — among other details — information such as the date of the first verdict before Ms Aslinda’s appeal, reasons as to why the verdict was only given after six years, the purpose of the monthly S$100 given to Ms Aslinda for the past six years, and particulars regarding any actions the Ministry has taken regarding the matter.
On 11 December, Mr Ravi disclosed how he had received instructions from Ms Aslinda’s sister, Siti Rasnah, regarding the case.
Mr Ravi said that Ms Siti had reached out to him about her sister who was sentenced to death for drug trafficking despite allegedly not carrying any drugs on her.
According to Mr Ravi’s narration, it was Ms Aslinda’s boyfriend who allegedly possessed the drugs when they both landed in Shenzhen, China.
Mr Ravi said that according to Ms Siti, MFA has not seen Ms Aslinda for about a year. On top of that, no lawyer had reportedly been engaged to defend Ms Aslinda in the past five years since her arrest.
Ms Siti also told Mr Ravi that she was told she could not see her sister in the Chinese prison.
Ms Aslinda’s daughter, Ismiraldha Abdullah, told CNN that the family’s letters seem to be monitored, as sometimes they do not get through.
Ms Ismiraldha said that in a recent letter, her mother said that consular officials have not been unable to visit her for almost a year, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time its article was published, CNN noted that MFA did not respond to its query regarding Ms Aslinda’s case.
MFA “aware of the case”, has been rendering regular support to Aslinda
In a statement on 25 December, MFA said that it is “aware of the case”.
The Singapore Consulate-General in Guangzhou, said MFA, has been rendering consular assistance to Ms Aslinda and Mohd Yusri Bin Mohd Yussof — another Singaporean similarly found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to death alongside her — since their arrest.
Mr Mohd Yusri — who was introduced by Ms Aslinda to one Chibuzor Onwuka who had offered her large commissions to transport goods from China to Cambodia — had done two such trips with her, CNN reported, citing court documents.
The Singaporean man’s death sentence, however, was suspended for two years — this could mean that the death sentence may be downgraded to life imprisonment.
MFA in its statement today said that the assistance given to the two Singaporeans included “visiting them regularly until the COVID-19 outbreak this year and ensuring that they have, in accordance with their legal rights, access to necessary medical attention and appropriate legal assistance”.
“MFA has also been in contact with their families to provide consular support, including as recently as this week,” the Ministry added.
Aslinda’s daughter “curious” about lack of criminal investigation by authorities throughout six years despite tip-offs from her mother
Responding to TOC’s query on whether she is aware of any help rendered by MFA to her family, Ms Ismiraldha said via text on the evening of 25 December that the consulate “have been visiting my mum 3-4 times a year”.
The Ministry, she said, has also assisted her in transferring funds to Ms Aslinda and forwarding Ms Aslinda’s written letters via physical mail or email.
Ms Ismiraldha recalled that when Ms Aslinda was arrested and detained — the former was only 12 years old at the time — she was told by her aunt that MFA offered their family “some lawyers in China that we can hire for my mum”.
“However, my family couldn’t afford due to the very high cost,” Ms Ismiraldha told TOC.
“My aunt got worried as she was told that even if we hire a lawyer, we would not be able to travel to China to visit my mum.”
“Since then, my aunt waited for updates regarding my mum’s sentence during these six years,” she said.
Ms Ismiraldha also told TOC that she is “curious” about how no criminal investigation was carried out throughout the six years by the authorities despite tip-offs from Ms Aslinda.
Her mother and Mr Mohd Yusri, she said, had told the judge the names and mobile numbers of the individuals connected to their case.
“Also, with the power of social media, I can easily find their pictures, their siblings and the place where they are living,” she added.
WATCH: M Ravi speaks to The Independent Singapore on Siti Aslinda Junaidi’s case updates