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Will the president pardon Yong?

April 5, 2012

Sabahan Yong Vui Kong's fate will now be determined by the newly elected president who is a devout Christian.

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By Elizabeth Peiris

Malaysian drug dealer Yong Vui Kong whose race against time to save his life turned him into something of a cause celebre amidst a very animated media circus, has had his final appeal against his death penalty for drug smuggling dismissed yesterday in Singapore’s Court of Criminal Appeal.

Yong’s fate now rests in the hands of President Tony Tan Keng Yam who as a devout Christian will now have the thankless task of deciding whether to grant clemency to the young, impressionable Yong, who according to media reports and court documents was hoodwinked and weaselled into smuggling the dangerous substance across to Singapore.

The clemency appeal, if it arrives at the president’s desk will make for an interesting twist of conflicting philosophies and convictions.

For one, it will pit the newly inaugurated president’s religious beliefs of forswearing the killing of fellow humans through the often heard Christian precept of thou shall not kill, against his constitutional duties and the demands of high office.

It will also perhaps be the president’s first instance of deliberating over a pardon for a capital offender. Executions in Singapore are usually carried out some two weeks after the president rejects a pardon petition.

Sometime earlier this year, Tony Tan’s predecessor, SR Nathan at a press conference expressed what appeared to be as tinges of remorse when recounting the times he declined the clemency petitions of death row inmates.

Not a single death row inmate under the former president’s watch had been ever spared the gallows.

Singapore has since 1974 maintained the very controversial and mandatory – some are calling it repugnant – death penalty for drug smugglers, arguing that it deters the very heinous crime of transnational criminals engaging mules – which Yong is suspected of being – in inflicting misery and enjoying impunity!

Though the drug situation in the country appears ‘under control’, it is far from deterred, at least from what empirical evidence suggests.

Not a week passes when the nation’s drug busters, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) would not announce of a drug bust somewhere in the far reaches of the city-state’s suburbia that in essence is about putting to pay the so-called deterrence effect behind the mandatory death penalty!

Yet the penalty is assiduously enforced with little or no chance for a felon to argue for mitigation because the mandatory nature of the death penalty simply disallows mitigation of any regard! And that’s on the back of a lack of evidence that sending somebody to his death actually does deter a crime from taking place.

That in essence just means regardless of what the situation or circumstances wherein a crime is committed, the courts will just not have any of it.

That places technicalities, points of law and fact at difficult cross-roads but which on reflection is much about easing the burden of proof on the Republic’s prosecutors!

Lack of debate

The death penalty has strangely not roiled the city-state in the way it has in other parts of the world.

That’s only because no polls have ever been conducted for its retention or abolishment, or of the media itself initiating debate on a cardinal human rights issue.

The lack of debate has severely curtailed an open and philosophical discussion of life and death, especially when the city-state’s newspapers reported last year that a man slated for execution was actually in fact, wrongly convicted of the capital offence of murder!

That is not all. In 1994, the late political dissident JB Jeyaretnam helped secure the freedoms of two brothers who like the man last year were also headed to the gallows had it not been for a technicality in the law and the unearthing of prosecutorial failings.

And a year later, in July 1995 a mechanic at a country club was only just two weeks away from the gallows when his ebullient counsel Subhas Anandan in some masterly and lawyerly fashion unearthed just the amount and kind of evidence he needed to exonerate his client.

Yet despite the sobering lessons stemming from the above mentioned cases, nothing as yet has moved the city-state to open debate on the very morally vexing issue of deciding who amongst its populace gets to live and who doesn’t!

Yong’s case mirrors that of another Malaysian, Vignes Mourthy who was hung in Singapore in 2003 under a pall of suspicion and recriminations of being an unwilling and unsuspecting mule to a certain Moorthy Angappan who allegedly duped the impressionable Mourthy, and who according to court documens was the mastermind behind the smuggling.

Elizabeth Peiris is a Singapore-based freelance writer.


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