Nathaniel Tan, August 04, 2010, Original post : The Malaysian Insider
Singapore is entirely within its legal rights to execute Yong Vui Kong.
This young man’s only hope for survival is the clemency and mercy of Singapore’s PAP government, and I am here to beg for it.
I can’t say begging is something that comes particularly naturally, but I do it wholeheartedly and without reservation.
If the Singapore government might be so kind as to hear out some of the possible reasons Vui Kong should be given a second chance, those of us concerned for him would be truly appreciative indeed.
As I understand it, the President of Singapore, SR Nathan, has full discretion to pardon Vui Kong, if he feels he deserves it.
All of us have our stories — a tale of how we got from where we were, to where we are. Here is Vui Kong’s.
As disadvantaged a background as can be
Vui Kong was born in a secluded part of Sabah that had no electricity or running water. His father left his mother and his siblings when he was three, after which the family went to live with their grandfather on an oil palm estate.
The grandfather was an abusive man who would beat both Vui Kong and his mum, and force Vui Kong to work on the estate until past midnight.
While his siblings scattered across the country, only Vui Kong stayed with his mother in this small hell, which destroyed what little emotional health the broken family had left to them.
Vui Kong finally left and took what jobs he could find. At one point, he was washing cars for RM3 a day (less than RM100 a month — even if you worked every single day). His mother would eat rice and goreng pisang that cost two sen each.
The rest of us, I’m sure, can barely remember what a one sen coin looks like.
When Vui Kong asked her why she was eating so sparingly, she said she was saving what little she had to give to her children when they got married.
Unable to bear it any longer, Vui Kong moved to KL. “I lived in a place which I am too ashamed to even mention, even now,” he said.
He continued to scrape a living together, despite being underpaid and continuing to face regular beatings from employers.
It was not long before Vui Kong found himself amongst the only people who took him in for their own reasons — street criminals and “big brothers.” VCD selling led to debt collecting; debt collecting led to package deliveries.
Vui Kong was proud to finally be able to buy his mother a small birthday present, only a few days before package deliveries would lead to an encounter with the Singapore police outside the Meritus Mandarin Hotel in Singapore on June 12, 2007.
As far as Vui Kong knew, he was not doing anything worse than smuggling cigarettes, and was not aware of the enormity of what he faced until much later. When he learn what was going to happen, he broke down. For many days and nights, he cried not just for himself, but for his mother. His family could not bear to tell their mother, for fear it would shatter her already fragile emotional state.
In prison, Vui Kong — not a hardened criminal to begin with — underwent a transformation. He discovered Buddhism, learnt how to read and write, and began a spiritual journey of coming to terms with his condition.
He has not kept his findings to himself, but has exerted every effort through various letters to his family and others to share religious teachings, gratitude and encouragement to his loved ones to spread goodness and peace amongst themselves and others.
Vui Kong has promised that should he be granted clemency, he will personally produce handwritten copies of the sutras along with anti-drug messages. He aspires to become an advocate for drug-free, clean living, and intends to use his experience as a deterrent to others.
Does Vui Kong deserve to die?
So, we are faced with a simple enough question: Does Vui Kong truly deserve to die?
We can explore this question even just from the perspective of what is good for society: Which course of action will likely result in less drug abuse?
On the one hand, we have a potential crusader against drugs — a young man who has a unique insight and understanding into the lives of the foot soldiers in the drug war; an insight the rest of us are unlikely to ever have. A young man already moved to such repentance even without any certainty of surviving the next few weeks.
On the other, some say executing Vui Kong will serve as a deterrent to future Vui Kongs.
Ironically enough, the biggest problem faced by this argument is demonstrated by Vui Kong himself.
An illiterate boy from the most rural parts of the region is more likely to believe his “big brother” when the latter tells him he is merely doing the equivalent of running cigarettes. How would he even learn of capital punishment? Having so little in life, the desperate will risk just about anything.
There is no way a boy like Vui Kong could have been properly educated about the dangers of drug trafficking — except perhaps via the efforts of the kind of crusader Vui Kong wants to be.
The reality is that no amount of dead Vui Kongs will achieve the same amount of deterring effect as one living Vui Kong.
This, perhaps even more than the inability of death penalty advocates throughout history to provide scientific, empirical evidence that the death penalty truly has an actual deterring effect on society in the long run, is what should most persuade us to stay the hand of vengeance.
None of us want the scourge of drug abuse to continue. Some of us also hope that the considerable resources of law enforcement agencies throughout the region can be directed at capturing the multi-millionaire drug kingpins, in addition to the low level foot soldiers.
Until we arrest the bosses and cripple this ultra-lucrative black market, a death sentence will do nothing to stop the waves of Vui Kongs to come.
What if it were our son?
Questions of crime and public policy aside, I cannot help but keep coming back to the life of this one individual — the paths that he has been forced to walk, the suffering he has endured throughout his life, and the deep journey of redemption he underwent in prison.
I suppose the question all of us should be asking — whether we are the President who takes into consideration the nation’s interest, Singaporeans, Malaysians, or any of us lucky enough to walk the world freely — is: If we or one of our own children were born into his circumstances and led his life, would we deserve a second chance?
A second chance to wrong our rights, a second chance to contribute towards society even though one was born into its lowest strata, a second chance to see the sun rise another day, and to love our fellow human beings?
We beg you Mr President, pray consider.