Saturday, May 21, 2016

The cruel death of Kho Jabing

Today is Wesak Day as celebrated by mostly those of the Theravada School of Buddhism [The Mahayana School celebrated Wesak a week earlier].

In Malaysia we have a mix of the two schools of Buddhist thoughts but most Chinese Malaysians who are Buddhists don't know the difference. In fact some (Chinese Malaysian Buddhists) even conflate Buddhism with their Chinese folk religion, Taoism and Confucianism, such is their relaxed attitude towards religions.

Perhaps this could be the result of 2600 years of Confucian indoctrination, in which we have been told that Confucius himself said: "Revere the gods but keep them at a distance."

Whatever, whichever, Buddhism instructs Buddhists to cultivate the good and avoid the bad in their lives, and especially to follow a path of non-violence.

Lay Buddhists follow the Pancasila or the Five Precepts, a code of ethics in everyday living which are NOT religious imperatives but voluntary training practices in following Buddhist principles. The first Sila or Precept is:

Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi

which is in the ancient Pali language and would translate into English as

I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing

Singapore is a nation in which most of its citizens are Buddhists, yet its legal code nurtures the medieval capital punishment which in any language today is an euphemism for state sanctioned or state legalised murder. Singapore as a much touted 1st World nation is ironically notorious for its inflexible readiness to apply capital punishment for certain crimes.

Yesterday in what was seen as indecent haste, Singapore executed Malaysian Kho Jabing. And right on the eve of Wesak Day

State executions in Singapore are usually carried out in the very early mornings of Fridays, but almost immediately after yesterday's (Friday morning) last minute appeal for Kho Jabing was dismissed by the courts, he was executed at 3.30 pm on Friday afternoon. The Sing authorities obviously wouldn't wait a week for another Friday early morning.

“But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? 
For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. 
Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”  
- Albert Camus

I deplore Singapore's heinously cruel act against a human being. This is not to say that Kho Jabing was innocent but to take away the life of even a criminal demeans the humanity of Singapore and its predominantly Buddhist population.

Many Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, with predominant Buddhist populations, though haven't as yet expunged the death penalty from their legal code of punishments, have studiously avoided applying the ultimate and extremely cruel penalty for more than a decade or so.

Catholic Philippines and East Timur have abandoned the death penalty for some years, though the new Philippines president Duterte wants to reintroduce it as he had avowed in his election campaign.

“The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to.”
Anton Chekhov 

In Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada there is no capital punishment.

In January last year Myanmar commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment. There have been no known executions in the Myanmar since 1989, nor in Laos since that time. Thailand has not carried out capital punishment since 1988. In effect these states are what Cornell University's Death Penalty Worldwide database describe as 'abolitionist de facto'. The Philippines, East Timor and Cambodia have abolished capital punishment entirely.

Brunei hasn't carried out any known executions since 1957 (though with the enactment of the first wave of hudud law last year, that tide may turn).

It would seem that above-mentioned SE Asian Buddhist countries (Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos) have abandoned the cruel barbaric death penalty.

I hope Philippines President Duterte won't implement his campaign promise of reintroducing capital punishment though I have little hope on this as Duterte is already notorious for his ultra rightwing-speak, but nevertheless we continue to hope it's just his campaigning boast. But alas, he may be compelled by his rightwing constituency to do as he has promised.

Until he does, the Asean nations which practise sanctioned and legalised state executions, in reality acts of murder, are secular Indonesia, secular Singapore, communist Vietnam, and secular (and at times Islamic) Malaysia, with perhaps Islamic Brunei with its hudud code of punishment and a Duterte-d Catholic Philippines joining the terrible foursome in the future.

“Capital punishment could not be justified in any society calling itself civilized.” 
- Howard Zinn

The worst in recent times have been ironically a supposedly liberal President Joko Widodo of Indonesia who has escalated state executions in his country. There is always an irreversible but shameful danger in playing politics at the expense of human lives. Shame on him.

In today's modern world, abandoning such a cruel punishment from the legal code of punishment would be the hallmark of a mature civilised nation which no longer subscribes to the ancient tribal ritual of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', a barbaric rite best left to the medieval Middle-Eastern nations of Israel and the Arab States, and some equally barbaric states in the USA and sadly the ancient civilizations of China and India.

We must strive to convince our politicians to speak out against capital punishment, as the late Karpal Singh had and UMNO Minister Nazri Aziz (in his personal capacity) also has, and hopefully erase such a barbarous punishment from our nation's legal code of punishment.

“It is wrong to become absorbed in the divine law to such a degree as not to perceive human law. Death belongs to God alone. By what right do men touch that unknown thing?” 
- Victor Hugo

Indeed if you are of the Abrahamic religious faith, then there's all the more reason you should leave the lives of human beings to the decision of your divine god and not mortal politicians. Just detain the murderous criminals for life from society. There is no need to ape their vile acts by murdering them and euphemistically camouflage our foul actions as capital punishment.

May the soul of Kho Jabing rest in peace.

Read also:

(2) Not a Martyr, Not a Hero, but a Human Being


  1. I am a person who normally agrees with most of your the extent that I have shared your postings in other groups and my wall.
    But this is one instance I am unable to agree...where is the deterrent otherwise?
    BTW I do not subscribe to any religion currently.

    1. Ramsey, read the following for deterrence:

      1) Catherine Appleton, PhD, Research Officer at the Centre for Criminological Research, and Bent Grover, PhD, former Associate for Mitchell Madison Group/marchFIRST, in their Apr. 24, 2007 article for the British Journal of Criminology titled "The Pros and Cons of Life Without Parole," wrote:

      "For those in favour of LWOP [life in prison without parole], another key benefit is its retributive power. It is argued that murderers deserve to be so punished because of the heinous nature of their crimes. If the death penalty is to be abolished, a replacement sanction of sufficient gravity needs to be provided by law.

      Proponents in the United States have emphasized that ‘life without parole is certainly not a lenient sentence ’ (Blair 1994:198). Sometimes referred to as ‘death by incarceration ’ , such sentences are undeniably tough, pleasing both politicians and prosecutors, but also satisfying some opponents of the death penalty...

      Deterrence is seen to be another major strength of LWOP. Some abolitionists have put forward the argument that while reviewable life sentences offer little in the way of deterring those who might kill, LWOP is undeniably harsh and its deterrent effect should not be underestimated."

      2) Mario Cuomo, JD, Governor of New York at the time of the quote, in a June 17, 1989 article for the New York Times titled "New York State Shouldn't Kill People," wrote:

      "What makes the risk of wrongful execution all the more unacceptable is that there is an effective alternative to burning the life out of human beings in the name of public safety. That alternative is just as permanent, at least as great a deterrent and - for those who are so inclined - far less expensive than the exhaustive legal appeals required in capital cases.

      That alternative is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. No 'minimums' or 'maximums.' No time off for good behavior. No chance of release by a parole board, ever. Not even the possibility of clemency. It is, in practical effect, a sentence of death in incarceration.

      Life without parole is achievable immediately. The Legislature could enact it Monday. I would sign the measure Tuesday. It would apply to crimes committed the next day. In fact, the only thing preventing the next cop killer from spending every day of the rest of his life in jail is the politics of death."

  2. Kho Jabing was convicted of killing a man by striking his head repeatedly with a tree branch in a botched robbery attempt. The victim sustained 14 skull fractures and a brain injury and died six days later.
    It was beyond reasonable doubt a deliberate, intentional and exceptionally brutal killing of an innocent human being.
    The photographs of the victim's injuries, submitted as evidence in court, were revolting and nauseating.

    He received a fair trial , which was appealed to the highest level of Singapore courts.

    The penalty for such an intentional killing i.e. murder, in Singapore is death. So it is written in law, there are no ifs and buts.

    Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.
    Singapore is a steadfastly secular state.

    He committed a dastardly act, and he received the penalty under the law in Singapore.

    If this were Australia, he would have received, at most, life imprisonment, with possibility of parole in less than 20 years.
    But that is Australia. Don't try to impose your Australian standards here.

    Rest in peace Koh Jabing.
    I don't think you are going to a very pleasant place after this.

    1. my post was not to ameliorate the crime of Kho Jabing, but to state my opposition to capital punishment per se. As I have stated, state sanctioned/legalized killing is a medieval barbaric form of punishment.

      religious reasoning applies to some, especially Malaysians of the Muslim-Christian faith, though many of the countries which do NOT have capital punishment are secular and based their code of punishment on the values of their civilized society who treasures humanity and compassion

      you're just typically opposing me for your own syiok sendiri-ness

  3. The conviction and the execution were duly carried out according
    to the laws enacted by the legislature of the country. (And why object to its occurance only during a sacred day or holy month, the remaining part of the year is open season?).

    The legislature are supposedly the peoples' representative, so the
    laws are supposedly the wishes of the people.

    If, during the tabling of that law by the ruling party, any 'wakil rakyat' from that party who wants to vote against it based on his conscience he would be 'whipped' back into line. So if any segment of the people is against a 'barbaric' law, would they have any means of repealing it?

    In effect, the law represents the wishes of the ruling elite who act
    supposedly according to the wishes of the people. Voters will not
    throw out a government because of one law they disagreed with.
    And the state have to balance the need for effective deterence and
    being humane. Different societies have different levels of human

    This particlar case was punishment for murder. Note that execution
    is also punishment for lesser offences - possession of drugs, firearms. (Remember the 14-year-old student sentenced to hang for having a pistol 4 decades ago?). One do not have to kill to be eligible for capital punishment mere possession is enough. Of course we leave out those capital punishment under religious laws for non-life-threatening offences.

    And 'state-sanctioned murder' is also found in the act of war involving the armed forces of every country, isn't it?

    1. once nations like those in Western Europe, Canada, NZ, Australia and a few nations in Asia have death sentence and executions, but those laws have changed and state execution ceased. Why? Social enlightenment, something which is definitely lacking in Singapore, Malaysia and most of Asia.

      China used to allow polygamy but now, that's illegal. Why? Social enlightenment

      How about slavery?

    2. What you termed as "Social enlightenment" in the abolition
      of capital punishment would be a judgement call, as other
      societies have different norms. In your example of polygamy
      it is legal for 60% of the population of Malaysia but illegal for the rest. How come?

      Now isn't the alternative of life imprisonment a kind of
      torture? So much so that :
      "Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who
      killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage in 2011, lives
      in conditions that would seem luxurious by American
      incarceration standards: a three-room suite with windows
      that includes a treadmill, a fridge, a television with DVD
      player and even a Sony PlayStation.

      "But on Wednesday, a Norwegian court found that the
      government had violated his human rights, concluding
      that his long-term solitary confinement posed a threat
      to his mental health..... "(NYT-20/4/16)

    3. To support or do away with capital punishment is indeed an issue of personal conscience or personal value or as you put it, judgement call.

      Many have mistaken my post as supporting or excusing the crimes of Kho Jabing. No, he was undeniably violent and found guilty and should be kept away from society. His punishment, as I would have wanted it, of life imprisonment (without parole) would be sufficient deterrent to wannabe killers.

      Many nations around the world have moved away from capital punishment for the reason they and their societies have found it inhumane, barbaric even, and for the religious, usurpation of the prerogative of the almighty (god or gods).

      Different societies perceive human rights differently, some to what we may think as ridiculous. For example, in the USA some years ago, a boy was allowed to divorce his birth parents (apparently on the egging of his adopted parents). Chinese or those of Confucian upbringing like Koreans and Japanese would have found that, a son divorcing his birth [parents, ridiculous and extremely repugnant.

      On polygamy, many societies allowed it, well, at least until reason times. The Islamic tecahing was originally to cter for war widows, where the family of a fallen warrior would be looked after by those still alive. For example, a young buck of say 18 might have been called upon to "marry" a 55 year old widow as his 2nd or 3rd or 4th wife, so as to look after her and her non-adult children. As with all good things, latter day Muslims have misused that calling.

      But polygamy was banned by the church even in medieval times as immoral - Christianity frowned upon adultery and polygamy. While the Israelites practiced polygamy and indeed slavery, strangely Deuteronomy 17:17 states:

      Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

      With the advent of communism in China, polygamy was also banned as the immoral and class-oppressive practice of bourgeoisie and the upper class.

      Malaya now Malaysia has two sets of laws, principally civil laws and to a limited/subordinate extent, syariah laws. In the latter it's accepted that Muslims can practise polygamy as allowed by their faith (though there was an original reason for it). I understand from Muslim friends that there are conditions to be fulfilled before a Muslim is allowed to marry a second or third or fourth wife, but in some cases, the "privileged" seem to be getting away with this (minus conditions).

    4. A typical case of 'not feeling the pain when the thorns r not piercing one's flesh'!!!

      Know how the family of the killer's victim felt?

      For a bigger consideration, those Nazis, who committed the atrocities of crime again humanity, should be jailed for life rather than been hanged till dead.

      The Ozzie govt should incamp those 'economical' refugees within her own soil rather than 'troubling' her neighbours by strong ecomony arm twisting.

      This might sound unrelated, but they r all part of the humane civility development as dictated by the populace in a 'quantitative' political consideration.

      Might be ok for an individual to talk cockaroo. But at the end of the day, this take SOUNDS hollow & hypocrisy to the end in a larger picture.

    5. That's why on such an issue of doing away with capital punishment we need national leadership. Currently in Malaysia there is none willing, ther than the late Karpal Singh (not sure about his sons) and Minister Nazri Aziz in his personal capacity. Why do I mentioned Nazri a anti capital punishment only in "his personal capacity"? That's because he has to toe the UMNO line of pro capital punishment, and which reflects the wishes of the Malay Heartland whether UMNO's or PAS' Heartland.

      Whether my personal stand sounds hollow or not can be seen in the total abolishment of capital punishment in the nations of Western Europe, Canada, NZ, Australia, Cambodia, Timur Leste, (hopefully still) Philippines, Cape Verde, Haiti, Nicaragua, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Rep, Croatia, Angola, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Moldova, Bulgaria, Poland, Bermuda, Chile, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Mexico, Liberia, Rwanda, and in the USA, the States of New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut and

      ... also in the de facto practices of countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and the predominantly-Buddhist nations of SE Asia, namely Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Kenya.