Published on: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: Sandakan-born convict Yong Vui Kong's unprecedented re-sentencing by the Singapore Court not only gave him a second lease of life.
The landmark decision to commute the sentence to life with caning also possibly saved the lives of 34 others, including several more Malaysians, on death row in the republic.
Singapore lawyer M Ravi who represented Vui Kong pro-bono (for free) said the changes in Singapore's law was a result of the numerous constitutional challenges lodged by him on behalf of his client who was sentenced to the gallows for drug trafficking.
Visiting Sabah for a few days, Ravi had dinner with Vui Kong's family on Tuesday night. He admitted that, initially, they had given up in making any difference in the case but they proceeded driven by the fact that "each time we lodged a constitutional challenge on Vui Kong, the law evolved in the courts."
"The judges were opening up. First time his execution was stayed, the Singapore Government argued before the Courts that the Courts do not have the power to grant a stay. Everything about Vui Kong's case was a first (and) we challenged so many existing laws in Singapore, the presidential clemency, the mandatory death sentence and prosecutorial discretionÉ all these things are under review.
"Most important outcome is the change in the law, finally, and what is even more heartening is that he has saved 34 other lives because the last execution was in August 2009, before his scheduled execution on Dec. 4, 2009."
Ravi said that since then about seven legal challenges have been brought to court and the law evolvedÉit showed the loopholes and it delayed the execution of the 34 on the death row.
"Whenever you lodge a constitutional challenge, it affects all inmates and citizens' rights so therefore they can't be executed," he said.
Vui Kong, 25 was sentenced to death after he was convicted on Jan. 7, 2009, for trafficking in 47gm of a controlled drug, diamorphine, on June 13, 2007 - a capital offence under Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act.
He was 18 when arrested. Following the re-sentencing, Vui Kong was given life and given 15 strokes of the cane.
Last year, the Singapore Government announced changes to the mandatory death penalty, allowing death row inmates to be given a lighter sentence if they met certain conditions. If the Attorney-General finds that have met these conditions, a Certificate of Co-operation (CoC) would be issued allowing the inmate to apply to the courts for the death sentence to be set aside and to be re-sentenced.
According to a statement by the Singapore Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in September, Vui Kong and one Subashkaran Pragasam, a Singaporean on death row, have assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore.
The AG said if Subashkaran and Vui Kong were able to prove to the court on a balance of probabilities that they were traffickers who only played the role of couriers, the prosecution would leave the sentence to the discretion of the court.
Subashkaran and Vui Kong were the first two people awaiting capital punishment, who the Public Prosecutor decided to issue certificates of substantive assistance under the amended Misuse of Drugs Act.
Ravi said he would also be challenging the sentence of 15 strokes of the cane imposed on Vui Kong as it is cruel and inhumane under international law.
"Vui Kong weighs only 47kg now and is not in the best of health.
The court has imposed 15 strokes of the cane, to me it is very excessive as the Court has already given him life imprisonment.
What is it you are going to achieve by imposing this punishment?
Next week he would be filing an application for an order to restrain the prison from caning on account that the judicial caning violates the international customary law which says that caning is a form of cruel, inhuman, punishment and treatment.
"And also I will be arguing under Singapore constitutional law why it is so.
"The second round will be that it violates the equal protection clause of Singapore because men and women should be treated equal.
I am not saying that women should be caned but that men should not be caned," Ravi said.
According to Ravi, he met Vui Kong two weeks ago and was extremely happy to have his life back.
Vui Kong had also expressed his intention to get an education and has informed the prison authorities about it.
"I understand from him that the prison said to him this is only meant for Singaporeans so I will be writing to them if there is such a policy, to make an exception because if he is allowed to study he will be a great scholar," he said.
Vui Kon's father also pleaded with the Singaporean Government to reduce the caning sentence as his son was weak.