Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yong Vui Kong - soon to die in Singapore

I have always been and still am against capital punishment for a variety of reasons which I won’t repeat here ad nauseam. Thus the article ‘A justice that heals by Josh Hong* in Malaysiakini struck a chord with me.

* Ultra über ulcerated Chinese, blogger Shuzheng would go ballistic on hearing me mention his ‘fave’ punching bag, Josh Hong again wakakaka

Josh's article is about the tragedy of Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, who has been sentenced to death by a Singapore Court for trafficking in 47 gm of heroin. He was only 18 when caught for the offence.

Currently there is a Malaysian campaign to secure 100,000 signatures to appeal to the Singapore President for clemency for Voon, to commute the death sentence to a life sentence.

Last month Malaysiakini reported:

He was only 18 years and 6 months old when arrested on June 13, 2007 at a hotel in Singapore for having the drug in his possession.

Raised in a broken home, Yong was forced into back-breaking manual labour when only 12, moving oil palm fruit on his grandfather's estate, as his mother could not support her six children on her meagre salary as a dishwasher.

Their poverty was also the reason why he did not complete his Year 6 education.

When he turned 15, Yong moved to Kota Kinabalu in search of better opportunities to help his mother, who suffers from chronic depression.

While there, he realised the potential for even greater opportunities by moving to Kuala Lumpur, which he did after saving up enough money

Arriving with just the shirt on his back, Yong worked at odd jobs - in the process, getting to know “friends” in secret societies.

The situation back home did not get better, especially after one of his sisters was involved in an accident. The trauma pushed his mother over the edge and she attempted suicide.

The last time he was with his family was during a short holiday to celebrate his mother's birthday in Sandakan between May and June 2007, before a “friend” in Kuala Lumpur made him an offer he could not refuse.

Given the promise of a big payout for simply delivering a “gift”, he took up the offer in the hope that he could finally help his ailing mother.

He was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. The Singapore courts found him guilty and sentenced him to death on Jan 7, 2009.

I hate to say this to demoralize the good-hearted and compassionate campaigners, such as campaign coordinator Ngeow Chow Ying, co-sponsors the civil rights committee of the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and human rights NGO Suaram, that the Singaporean authorities will not be moved, especially in a case with Vong's background (read on to see what I meant by this).

Apart from arguing that its draconian laws, including the mandatory death penalty for the trafficking of even small amounts of illegal drugs, help keep crime and social disorder down, the Singapore government probably believes that clemency would be a sign of weakness, …

… unless of course when there have been (are) strategic implications for its national interests, as Josh succinctly pointed out in his earlier Malaysiakini article Must Yong Vui Kong die? (extracts follows):

If the PAP government is as colour-blind and judicious as it claims, how would one explain why Shanmugan Murugesu, a Singaporean citizen of Indian origin, was hanged for smuggling marijuana while
Julia Bohl, a German national, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, of which she served only three?

Under Singapore's strict drug laws, capital punishment is mandatory when one possesses more than 500g of marijuana. Bohl had 687g of the stuff with her when she was caught. But she was more than just an innocent consumer, for she actively sold drugs - supplied by a Malaysian syndicate - to her peers in order to sustain her glamorous lifestyle in Singapore. It is widely believed the authorities caved in and reduced the charges against Bohl under Germany's "economic muscle" (in Shadrake's* words).

Furthermore, Michael McCrae, a British national, was implicated in two gruesome murders in Singapore. Having escaped to Australia on a fake passport, he confessed to the crimes. Requests for extradition by Singapore were rejected because Canberra is opposed to death penalty.

McCrae was finally brought back to the island state to face trial after the Singapore government promised not to resort to the ultimate punishment. Thanks to Singapore's strong economic interests with Australia, he cheated the gallows and was sentenced to 24 years in jail.

* Alan Shadrake, a former British journalist, is the author of the book 'Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock' which is highly critical of the Sing’s judicial system. Shadrake was arrested in Singapore on 18 July 2010 on charges of 'criminal defamation', a day after the publication of his book.

Though not officially banned on the Island, it cannot be found in any of its bookshop because (according to the Asia Sentinel) the Singapore Media Development Authority admitted sending a letter to some bookshops warning them about the legal implications of selling it.

The Asia Sentinel previewed the book as follows (extracts):

Having re-examined a wide range of drug trafficking cases over the last two decades, Shadrake claims that the likelihood of offenders being sent to the gallows is dependent on their socio-economic background and, in the case of foreigners, Singapore's economic and political relationship with their government.

Compare the fates of Julia Bohl, a German student believed to be part of a high-society drug-dealing ring in Singapore, and Amara Tochi, a young Nigerian hoping to carve out a career in football who unwittingly became a drug mule. Bohl was arrested in 2002 in possession of 687 grams of cannabis, well over the 500 gram limit above which a sentence of death by hanging is mandatory. Her predicament generated a lot of press coverage in Germany, an important trading partner for Singapore, and her government came under pressure to try to save her from the gallows. Fortunately for Bohl, before her trial began, further laboratory testing revealed that the drugs in her possession only weighed 281 grams. She was eventually sentenced to five years in jail and released after three years because of good behavior.

Tochi was not so lucky. He was arrested at Changi Airport in possession of more than 700 grams of heroin but insisted that he thought he was carrying African herbs. Tochi did not attempt to flee when told by airport staff that the police were coming to talk to him and the trial judge accepted that there was no evidence that he knew he was carrying drugs. But he was executed nevertheless in 2007.

Shadrake argues that the judiciary and the police offer a sympathetic ear to members of the domestic elite or overseas citizens from key economic and political allies while showing a disturbing eagerness to expedite the execution of suspected drug mules from poor or marginalized backgrounds, sometimes in highly questionable circumstances.

The author quotes an anonymous former officer from Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau, who says that zealous undercover police often encourage traffickers to transport larger amounts of drugs so that they cross the mandatory execution threshold.

Undercover officers also played a key role in the demise of Vignes Mourthi, a young Indian Malaysian hanged in 2003 for trafficking 27.65 grams of heroin despite his insistence that he believed he was carrying incense stones. One key piece of evidence against him was an unsigned, undated statement from an undercover officer who claimed that Mourthi had admitted to him that he was carrying drugs.

Yet just two days after Mourthi's arrest, the same undercover officer was arrested on suspicion of rape and was subsequently convicted of corruption for attempting to bribe the alleged rape victim to withdraw her complaint against him. Although such behavior ought to have cast serious doubt on the quality of his testimony, the officer was not tried until a year after Mourthi's execution and no mention was ever made at Mourthi's trial of the severe question marks surrounding the officer's conduct.

Shadrake argues that Mourthi's execution is "arguably one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice in Singapore's history" and the publication of his book has provided new impetus to the Mourthi family's campaign to clear his name posthumously.

The case of an Australian, Nguyen Tuong Van, also caught at a very young age, being hung by the Singapore authorities had been an odd case to the above accusations of Singapore's double standards, but I reckon that's only because the Australian PM at that time, John Howard was not sympathetic enough to push a clemency appeal full-heartedly for Nguyen as did the German government for Julia Bohl, for reasons ... well ... only known to Howard himself.

By contrast, Howard showed more caring concerns for another Australian, Schapelle Corby who was caught carrying quite a lot of marijuana (more than 4 kg) into Bali. The Howard government even engaged a couple of QCs to help Corby in her defence. For more on Schapelle Corby see my previous post Schapelle Corby - Truly Bad Feng Shui.

Howard also watered down his appeal for Nguyen Tuong Van by stating (words to the effect) that regardless of the Singapore government’s decision on his appeal for Nguyen Tuong Van, it won’t affect the two nations’ relationship – which was virtually saying to the Singapore government to go right ahead with the execution. And indeed, the Sing government did so.

Read this to have an insight into John Howard’s feelings (or lack of) towards the execution of a young Australian. He disgusted many Australians when he showed he was more interested in a local game of cricket than the life of an Australian citizen being terminated at that moment in a distant land - see my Cricket at Dawn.

By contrast to Howard's pathetic lukewarm appeal for a young Australian on a date with the Singapore hangman, Australia's neighbour, Kiwi PM Helen Clark showed a by far more caring compassionate nature when she made a personal appeal to Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong to grant clemency for Nguyen.

I truly feel sad and depressed thinking of Yong Vui Kong's eventual death by execution for I don't think he'll escape the Singapore hangman. For man to kill another man in the name of society's law is no less an evil than murder.

When Nguyen, who lived in Richmond in Melbourne, was executed in 2005, I penned a number of poems about and for him (or at least his soul) - see the 'Related' links. I dedicate them to Voon in anticipation of his likely execution, despite the campaign of clemency for him.

The one which follows expresses my deep disappointment with Singapore's cruel law and cruel rejection of Nguyen's mum for a last hug for her son:

In a Perfect Country!

a perfect country
of immense wealth;
wants for nothing,
save compassion

a perfect country
spick and span;
no dirt! not even
messy feelings

a perfect country
financial centre,
shipping Mecca,
Darfur of mercy

a perfect country
of resolute leaders;
articulate, brainy
but missing a heart

a perfect country
of rules and laws;
OK to do this that
but mustn't hug

a perfect country
of rugged people;
fit, strong, healthy
but without a soul

(1) distant bells & distant chimes
(2) Home and Free
(3) The Door


  1. is there any way for singapore to pay for such merciless actions?

  2. I don't agree on death penalty
    Taking lives shouldn't be for modern society
    They have the brains and the reasoning
    Yet in this they become the ape men

    God give life
    God take life
    It belongs to God
    No other can take it

    There is no short cut to wealth
    Dream of easy and cozy life
    Go and earn the hard way
    The easy way the pitfall for many

    When greed takes over
    Forgetting the law of a country
    When punishment come in severe forms
    One realizes what a fool one has been

    The civil society
    We expect compassion for the wayward
    The young especially guided by misconception
    We expect a second chance of a life

    Though one can spend in prison
    It is better to have conscious and heart
    The authority should exercise compassion
    As God has commanded in the scriptures

    There is no perfect society
    There is no perfection in one's life
    Every body should have known that
    Live with a heart and a compassion

    Let death be the willed of God
    God is the One who decide one's fate in life
    Let God be the judge....
    God is the Giver; God is the Taker

  3. The British mamak who tried to plead bipolar illness was also executed in China for smuggling drugs. To eliminate drug trafficking, harsh measures need to be taken. Had China hanged all the British opium traders there, there would not had been any Opium Wars.

  4. Anonymous 8:47 AM,
    How many facts do you "know" about opium war? Opium is never affordable items for peasants. Only rich, government officers and high ranking military man afford to take opium.

    Always, it is much easier to blame on any tangible stuff such as opium than government dysfunction.

  5. Too right Moot, the Opium Wars occurred precisely for the reason Lin Zexu, the Commissioner appointed by the Chinese government to stop opium trading, confiscated and destroyed the British traders' illegal goods.

    The issue in this post is a young man of only 18, who lacked education and is from a poor background, should be given a second chance - what good is there in terminating his still unfulfilled life?

    To many of us who oppose the death sentence, capital punishment is nothing more than legalised cold blooded murder.

  6. Amazingly while Singapore (and Malaysia and fellow Asian nations) frequently execute smalltime drug mules and dealers, we roll out our red carpets for the Kingpins and Dons of Myanmar.

  7. That poor fellow may be a fall guy to make the system look good. It happens now and then.