Susan Loone, Jul 14, 10@ 12:47pm (www.malaysiakini.com)
When Yong Vui Kong, a 22 year old Malaysian on death row in Singapore, was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking in 2009, little did he know that he would be at the centre of a constitutional issue in the republic.
The question which may eventually decide whether Yong (pictured with his mother) will face the gallows or have his sentence commuted to life, is whether his clemency process has been flawed by the cabinet’s alleged interference in his case.
Yong’s lawyer M.Ravi said that the only way in which the constitution can be observed is for the president to peremptorily pardon him in order to “assuage the gross procedural and substantive improprieties that have taken place in this case”.
“The president must now pardon my client or the court must grant my client’s application for judicial review where there has not been and cannot be a proper clemency process,” he said, when asked to comment on Singapore Law Ministry’s rebuttal of his claims.
“The cabinet’s exercise of the president’s constitutional prerogative amounts to a usurpation of the president’s clemency powers conferred on him expressly under Article 22P of the constitution,” he added.
Stay of execution
President SR Nathan rejected Yong’s petition in December last year, when Yong was scheduled to hang, but his lawyer has managed to obtain a stay of execution pending the clemency appeal.
Yong is racing against time to commute his sentence to life as the appeal period ends next month.
Ravi (right) said the Law Ministry took the opportunity to further prejudice his client’s clemency process by highlighting “prejudicial information” based on charges that were never brought against him.
Ravi, who is representing Yong on a pro-bono basis, said the cabinet had clearly intended to reject his client’s clemency petition even before it has been filed.
“The consequence of these statements (by Law Minister K. Shanmugam) is that there has been an egregious breach of the constitution as the president, not the cabinet, is supposed to make clemency petition decisions,” he said.
“A cabinet minister and his ministry have made public statements referring to my client by name, evincing a plain desire that he be executed regardless of the clemency process,” he added.
“The crux of the issue is that it is clear that the cabinet cannot play any further role in the clemency process as it has obviously prejudged Yong’s case,” he stressed.
At a public event on May 9, Shanmugam stated that “lf Yong escapes the death penalty, drug barons will think the signal is that young and vulnerable traffickers will be spared and can be used as drug mules”.
According to the lawyer, the remarks were widely reported in the Singaporean media.
Last week, Shanmugam maintained in a statement via the Singapore High Commission in Malaysia that his comments were justified as the government’s policy is a “matter of public importance”.
He claimed that Ravi was inaccurate in attributing to him statements which he did not make.
Plea for clemency
Recently, Foreign Minister Anifah Ahmad said he will be writing to the Singapore government to plead for Yong’s clemency but the republic has yet to receive a letter from Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Ravi is also challenging the cabinet on Attorney-General Walter Woon’s statement that “although in theory it is the president who exercises the prerogative of mercy, in fact it is the cabinet that makes the decision”.
Ravi added that Woon made this submission in the Court of Appeal and the AG, unrebutted, also said that “The president does not have discretion in this matter”.
“This flies directly in the face of the constitution which confers the power of clemency on the president himself, and clearly states that cabinet’s powers are only to advise the president on the exercise of the prerogative,” said Ravi.
“This revelation is startling as clemency petitions are submitted to the president on the assumption that the constitution is followed in letter and spirit,” he added.