An account of Yong Vui Kong's life
Vui Fung, Vui Kong, Ah Lun, Yun Leong with their mother
Yong Vui Kong, born to a family of 6, went through a turbulent childhood when his parents divorced while he was very young. As a result his mother had to raise the kids singlehandedly.
Being a dishwasher she brought home RM$200 a month, and the family had to scrap by at the most basic sustenance level.
Eventually this paved the way for Vui Kong's departure from their hometown of Sabah, East Malaysia to the big city of Kuala Lumpur.
Vui Kong with brothers during happier days
In 2002, Vui Kong the country boy left Sabah for KL, bringing nothing but him but the desire to make it big.
A young and rebellious Vui Kong
He was described by his family as "rebellious", often mixing with bad company and getting into trouble. Yet, Vui Kong would be the apple in his mother's eyes. He treated his siblings well, especially Vui Fung who would often relate how much Vui Kong doted on her, even though he would sometimes throw his temper at home when things were not going well for him.
Vui Fung (Fung Fung) with Vui Kong
But all these was not meant to last.
Vui Kong worked as a kitchen hand in KL, but was later introduced to a gang, whose boss showered him with 5 star hotel stays and treated him to meals he could never be able to afford.
Vui Kong mixed with the wrong company, which eventually sealed his fate
Eventually Vui Kong went from debt collecting to "delivering gifts". These gifts turned out to be drugs. At that young and impressionable age, Vui Kong had no idea that the penalty for trafficking of drug was mandatory death.
At 18, Yong Vui Kong was conscripted for National Service. He would later return to KL back to the same boss who provided him with work and lead him on to be a drug runner.
Vui Kong would later shuttle back and forth Singapore and Malaysia several times until he was caught in June 2007 with possession of 47g of heroin. Yong was 18 and a half years old at the time of arrest. Singapore drug laws stipulate mandatory death for 18 years and above. Vui Kong faced certain death the moment he was caught by narcotics officers.
Vui Kong, represented by state-assigned counsel Kelvin Lim, was trialed in Singapore High Court.
Justice Choo Han Teck found Vui Kong too young to be dealt with the mandatory death sentence
Before passing the judgement, trial judge Justice Choo Han Teck summoned both the defence and presecution into chamber and asked the prosecution if they would consider reducing the charge given the relatively young age of the drug offender, who was not even 19 at the age of the offence. The prosecution declined and the death sentence was handed to Vui Kong.
Yong's then defence counsel, following the common practice for almost all capital cases for drug trafficking, was preparing to take the case to the Court of Appeal.
Kelvin Lim, under specific instruction from his client, withdrew the Appeal.
Changi Prison customary photo taking session before execution
At this point in time, Vui Kong's sister, Fung Fung, had already bought a shirt and pants for her brother. It is customary for prisoners on death row to don on their best in a bizzare and morbid prison practice - photos of the prisoner in various poses will be shot and the pictures will be sent to the convict's family after the execution.
"I don't want to lie to save myself."
Vui Kong instructed his lawyer to withdraw the appeal
Why did Vui Kong withdraw the appeal?
Apparently, he was under the impression that a High Court Appeal could only work if there are new evidence to prove that he was innocent of the charge, and he thought that the only way out was to lie to be able to save himself.
After taking up Buddhism as his religion while in prison, Vui Kong did not want to lie which was a sin according to Buddhist beliefs, he therefore instructed his counsel to withdraw the Appeal.
Vui Kong did not know that he involuntarily extended his stay in this world by withdrawing his own High Court Appeal, the only legal lifeline available to him.
Because of this withdrawal, the high Court hastened the execution process and ordered Yong to be executed on 4th December 2009.
M. Ravi intervenes
M. Ravi holding a picture of a Buddha like figure drawn by Yong while in prison
Singapore human rights lawyer Madasamy Ravi got wind of Yong's case. He promptly took over the case from Yong's counsel Kelvin Lim after a court hearing.
Ravi submitted a clemency appeal to the Singapore President, but on 20th November, it was rejected by the Istana.
Yong was granted a rare last minute stay of execution
Two days before Yong's scheduled execution, Ravi made an application for a stay of execution for Vui Kong pending a High Court hearing for an appeal. The Court of Appeal had previously not heard Vui Kong's case as his defence lawyer had withdrawn it.
Vui Kong broke down in court when he heard his execution on Friday was stayed
The judge decided that he was not in the position to make the decision for the Court of Appeal, granted the stay of execution for Vui Kong. Vui Kong, who was present in court, broke down and cried when he heard the news.
Vui Kong Finally meet his mother after two years of incarceration
A day after the court's decision, Yong met his mother, who came to Singapore accompanied by his siblings. Upon seeing his mother, Yong knelt and bowed to her three times in a show of respect.
Vui Kong's mother still does not know that her son had been sentenced to death.
For fear that she may commit suicide due to suffering from chronic depression, Vui Kong's family had kept his fate away from her. The only idea she has of why her son is in jail is that "he had committed a very serious matter and that he will be gone for a very long time in order to atone for his sins and will not return unless he has attained self fulfillment".
On 8th December, Vui Kong received a 2nd stay of execution, this time from the Court of Appeal. The stay of execution was in effect until the Appeal was presented and debated in court. The court gave the defence much needed time to prepare the case, and activists more time to campaign for it.
Yong outlived his original death sentence for a full 4 months. This was something he never saw coming on the eve of his execution.
Campaigns to save Vui Kong
Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign flyer
Ravi, in the months after the court's decision to grant the stay of execution, set off to do his research, pro bono. He engaged the help of Queen's counsels in London, dug up the various developments in other Commonwealth countries on the mandatory death penalty and at the end compiled an appeal submission 5 volumes thick.
London team of lawyers who provided valuable research and help: Parvais Jabbar, Edward Fitzgerald QC, M. Ravi and Saul Lehrfreund
On 15th March the high Court convened for Vui Kong's appeal. After both sides presented their cases and arguments, the judges praised M. Ravi for the effort he had put into his submission and thanked him for providing the court with an update on current international practices with regards to the death penalty. They decided to reserve judgement on the hearing until further notice. (credits to TOC)
"The court acknowledge that the mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment," - Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong
On 14th May, the Court of Appeal duly rejected the appeal. But it acknowledged that the mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.
In June, Vui Kong's counsel M. ravi made a trip down to KL in an attempt to rally the Malaysians together over the case.
There was a buzz initially when the Malaysian online media carried Vui Kong's story, but it fizzled out after a week or two.
Umi Azlim, the Malaysian girl sentenced to death for drug trafficking
In 2007, Umi Azlim was sentenced to death in China. Curiously, she had a sentence commuted to life imprisonment after the Malaysian government appeal to the Chinese government citing compassionate grounds.
Vui Kong received no such attention from the Malaysian government.
No Political Mileage
"Probably because he presents no political mileage. He is first of all a (Malaysian) Chinese, and a Sabahan."
But the Malaysian media had their ways. many online media outlets, especially MalaysiaKini, ran a media blitz over Vui Kong's case and nudge the Malaysian government to do something to help the boy who was facing the gallows overseas.
Ravi with MP Tian Chua and Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman (Photo: TOC)
But all was not lost. On 3rd July it was announced that PKR's MP Tian Chua would table a debate on Vui Kong's case in Parliament the following Monday. It was rejected by the Speaker of Parliament, but a press conference was held and Malaysia's Foreign Minister was present.
"After all, I am a Sabahan too” - Malaysia's FM Anifah Aman pledged to assist in Yong's case
He told Ravi and the Malaysian press, “All things aside, if I save one life it will give me great satisfaction. After all, I am a Sabahan too”, referring to the Malaysian state where Yong comes from. (Credit: TOC)
After his statement, almost all media outlets in Malaysia carried the news.
Malaysian activists promptly got to work to set up a site, 2ndChance4Yong, to campaign for Vui Kong.
For the first time, Yong did not just have to rely on Singapore, he had the support of the people from his country as well.
To be continued...
Updated 6th July 2010
Further updates here: Vui Kong's Journey
Vui Kong's Story
Vui Kong (middle), with his siblings during happier times
Yong Vui Kong （杨伟光） was 18 years and 6 months old when he was arrested for trafficking 47 grams of heroin into Singapore. He was scheduled to hang on Friday, 4th December 2009, but after an abrupt appeal application 2 days before his slated execution date, he was granted a stay of execution until after his his appeal hearing on 15th March 2010.
Vui Kong's Story: Excerpts from an interview with his brother, Yun Leong (video)
We were poor and grew up in the countryside. We didn't have a good education. Mom and Dad divorced when we were young. Our mother had a tough time bringing us up. Because she had to raise 4 of us up my herself, we did not receive a good education.
Vui Kong went to KL at the age of 14 and found work as a kitchen hand. Later he was introduced to a job selling pirated CDs and that's when he started hanging out with gangs. His boss trusted him, and also tempted him with money. He would take Vui Kong to five star hotels for meals and bought him nice clothes.
My brother never thought that a poor boy like him from the countryside could become rich or powerful. He also needed the money to help pay for my mother's illness because she suffers from depression.
My brother moved from collection debts to delivering "gifts". These gifts were actually drugs. These gifts were actually drugs. In the past he didnt know that drug trafficking would cost him his life. It was only when he was in prison that he know drug trafficking meant death.
Drug trafficking is a serious crime anywhere in the world. Because of Vui Kong's crime, I think he deserves to be punished. But I think the law in Singapore could look at his case from different angles, for example his family background, his personal story, the fact that he was lured by his boss, who tempted him and controlled his every move.
The death penalty is so serious because he is a first time offender and naive about the world, but there's no turning back for him. I think it's tragic.
Vui Kong (far right) with his elder brothers
Vui Kong's story doesn't just end here - Heroin Smuggler Challenges Singapore Mandatory Death Sentence
Lawyers for a young Malaysian man facing the death penalty for drug smuggling are arguing that the mandatory death sentence is inhumane and disproportionate.
Singapore executes anyone found guilty of importing more than 15 grams of drugs.
It is one of the few countries in the world to impose compulsory death sentences for drug offences.
As Monica Kotwani reports from Singapore, it is being seen as a key challenge against the longstanding law.
Ah Leong takes a rare break from working in the kitchen at the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Singapore’s shopping district.
He wrings his hands anxiously. His brother Vui Kong is on death row.
Ah Leong says they have had a tough life.
“My parents split up when he was just three. My father left us and my mum had to support us.”
Ah Leong says seeing his mum struggle to survive caused his brother to be attracted by the prospects of riches in the capital. There he was lured into drug trafficking.
“We’re from Sabah, and very poor. You work so hard but you earn very little. But in Kuala Lumpur, Vui Kong’s boss called him to work, and paid him well. He was told by his boss to take these things and give them to people. He could not say no to his boss’s demands.”
Vui Kong was 19 years old when he was arrested in Singapore for possessing 47 grams of heroin, more than twice the maximum amount that warrants the mandatory death penalty.
He was later convicted of trafficking drugs, and sentenced to death.
But in December last year, a few days before Vui Kong was due to be hanged his lawyers obtained an emergency reprieve.
M Ravi is his appeal lawyer.
“When we say mandatory death sentence means basically judges don’t have discretion. Just close your eyes, and that’s it, and execute. Don’t have to look at the person’s background and all that. You know in a sentencing regime, there’s a plea in mitigation, to mitigate your circumstances, it’s part of the sentencing process, so, it was not only that the death penalty was already harsh, but to impose that, it’s just cruel and unusual punishment.”
Taiwan recently abolished the mandatory death penalty and China, which continues to execute prisoners, allows judicial discretion in sentencing drug-related cases.
Ravi says Singapore is out of touch.
“It is a very outdated, outmoded approach. It is not compatible with evolving standards of human rights decency. 95 percent of Asian countries have abolished it.”
Singapore has seen a big decline in its use of the death penalty but the government is resisting any change to the law.
In 2009, Law Minister K Shanmugam cited a survey conducted by Singapore’s main newspaper, The Straits Times, which found that 95 percent of Singaporeans support the death penalty.
But Andrew Loh editor of the Online Citizen website believes this is not an accurate picture.
“There’s a difference between the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty. From my experience, from talking to people, explaining to them what it is, most of the people, when they understand it more, they do not support the mandatory death penalty.”
Andrew says there have been some high profile execution cases in the last few years that involved the Australian and Nigerian governments but, he says, so far the Singaporean government has not relented to international pressure.
“Whenever such cases come out, the government turns the whole issue around to become about national sovereignty - that we have the right to impose our own set of laws. I don’t know why they do that. Maybe to get the general public to support the government, because if you turn it to a national pride kind of issue, people will feel these other countries are attacking us so we have to defend the government.”
I’m standing outside the Supreme Court of Singapore, where Yong Vui Kong’s appeal is being heard.
In the hearing, Singapore’s Attorney General, Walter Woon is arguing that the Mandatory Death Penalty deters others from doing the same.
Asia Calling requested an interview with the Attorney General many times but I was informed by a staff member that he was on a very long leave. An email request for an interview with the Ministry of Home Affairs was denied.
Defence Lawyer Ravi says research in Hong Kong has shown that the death penalty does not reduce crime.
“The fact that it does not deter has been researched by Jeffrey Fagan. Jeffrey Fagan did a study between HK and Singapore - a tale of two cities, that’s the title of his research. After the abolition of capital punishment in HK, there was a reduction in terms of homicide as well as drug trafficking in Hong Kong.”
Back outside the Marriot Hotel Ah Leong has nearly finished his break.
He says he just wants his little brother to live.
“I hope for anything but the death penalty. Anything else is ok. In prison, he can learn, to cook, or read. Twenty or thirty years, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a chance for him, because he’s still such a young boy.”
Ah Leong’s mother suffers from depression and he fears she will not survive if Vui Kong is hanged.
So the family has decided to keep her in the dark.
“As long as she lives, we will never tell our mother. We’ll just tell her that he has been caught, and is in prison. I think this is for the best.”
Courtesy of asiacalling.org