From NOT IN OUR NAME: NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY campaign press release posted here,
Calling for an end to the mandatory death penalty: Let Yong Vui Kong be rehabilitated under the Yellow Ribbon Project
Monday, 7 December 2009
The NOT IN OUR NAME: NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY campaign welcomes the encouraging decision by the High Court to grant a stay of execution to Yong Vui Kong, a 21-year-old convicted of drug trafficking.
We ask the authorities to grant this first-time offender a permanent reprieve from the death penalty, thereby offering Yong a chance at rehabilitation.
The mandatory death sentence was automatically imposed on Yong, a Malaysian, when he was found guilty of trafficking 47 grams of heroin in November last year. Under Singapore law, the death sentence is mandatory for offences involving more than 15 grams of heroin.
NOT IN OUR NAME: NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY campaign is deeply concerned about the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking cases, which does not allow judges any discretion to sentence prisoners like Yong Vui Kong to an alternative punishment. We urge that Yong be given a chance at rehabilitation under the Yellow Ribbon Project, and call for an end to the mandatory death penalty.
Yong was 19 years old when he was arrested. He has been in custody for about two years. He had been working as a messenger for a man in Malaysia, who often asked him to collect money from debtors or deliver packages as “gifts” to people in Malaysia and Singapore.
Like many convicted felons, Yong comes from a broken family. After his parents divorced, he had to stop school and start working at 10 years old. Yong lived with his paternal grandfather in Sabah who regularly abused him. His mother, who worked as a dishwasher, suffers from severe depression and was, until last week, kept in the dark about her son’s impending execution, for fear she might not have been able to cope.
Yong travelled to KL and worked as an underpaid assistant at a Chinese restaurant where according to his brother, Yong Yun Leong, he was treated with scorn. Yong was lured into the false companionship of a gang and was used as a drug mule by syndicate bosses. He was able to earn more money than he had as a kitchen boy. Yong flew back to Sabah for his mother’s birthday on June 10, 2007, but on June 12 he was arrested in Singapore.
Yong Yun Leong believes that his brother had been aware that his transactions involved drugs. But he says he was tricked by his bosses into believing that he was not transporting death penalty quantities. While on death row, Yong has expressed deep remorse for his crime, and has become a devout Buddhist who shuns meat out of religious conviction.
We feel strongly that Yong deserves a second chance. He is only 21 and a first-time offender. Indeed Yong would benefit, as other convicted felons are doing, from the Yellow Ribbon rehabilitation scheme.
However the death sentence for drug trafficking means that no rehabilitation is possible and no mitigating circumstances can be considered.
A series of similarly desperate, young individuals from equally troubled contexts have been hanged of late. From the drug cases to which we had access, desperation is motivation for people to run foul of the law. The record speaks for itself: divorced, depressed and marijuana-dependent Shanmugam Murugesu, with twin teenage boys and an ailing mother in tow, took to being a marijuana mule for SGD $2,000. Twenty-two-year-old Australian Nguyen Tuong Van was trying to pay for his heroin addict twin’s legal fees. Nineteen-year-old Nigerian Amara Tochi dreamt of paying for his siblings’ education by working as a professional footballer. But on his way to Singapore, a “befriender” asked him to take a packet of African herbs with him. All three were hanged between 2005 and 2007.
The kingpins behind these cases have not been apprehended whilst many runners, who will be tempted for various reasons, continue to pay with the price with their lives. The mandatory sentence has been imposed on many lives but there is no clear empirical evidence that it is a deterrent to any crime in Singapore. There are numerous examples of countries in the world with low crime and low drug rates, and which do not have the death penalty. Drug problems need to be addressed at a level of need — why it is that people need to take drugs. Indeed it is hard to see how death penalty cannot become that no-nonsense, definitive solution to the horrific problem of drug addiction, if the deterrent value remains so unclear.
Meanwhile there is one clear reality: desperate breadwinners who chose the wrong path are hanged, and traumatized families become all the more dysfunctional as they deal with the brutality of a hanging. The mandatory death penalty discounts the dire sociological circumstances of such criminals and gives them no second chance — many of them had no chance at good and clean living in the first place.
Not in Our Name: No to the Death Penalty urge an end to the mandatory death penalty, as the court should be given the discretion to take all factors into consideration in cases where an individual’s life is at stake. We strongly believe that judges in Singapore should be given the option of meting out alternative punishments in capital cases and, most importantly, to weigh up between mercy and justice, which the current mandatory approach nullifies.
While lauding the court’s decision to stay the execution of Yong Vui Kong, we urge the authorities to extend this encouraging and compassionate development in the case, and grant that Yong’s death sentence be commuted to imprisonment, with a view to rehabilitation.
NOT IN OUR NAME: NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY is a campaign coalition of independent persons against the death penalty
This statement is issued with the support of MARUAH (SINGAPORE WORKING GROUP FOR ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISM)
See also my constantly updated post on Vui Kong here.