English Translation :
The Tenth Letter : Drugs and the Death Penalty
Yetian, you once asked me to write about drugs and the death penalty, but I said that I did not have the right to discuss such an issue because I myself have been sentenced to death because of a drug offence. Also, I had not really thought deeply enough about this issue.
Recently, you have asked me to write on the matter again.
Everyone here in this prison block has been sentenced to death. Most of them are on death row for drug offences. Some of the inmates are old, but most are young. They have all been through their trials and lost their appeals. Some are hoping for clemency from the Singapore’s president, others are just waiting for their “time” to come. They all have their own stories to tell.
My brother, Yun Leong, knows another inmate – his name is Chun Yin. I believe the newspapers have reported his case before. Every Monday (death row family visit day), Yun Leong sees Chun Yin’s father at the prison. Once, outside the prison, Chun Yin’s father even asked Yun Leong to sign a petition to save Chun Yin’s life.
My lawyer, M Ravi, also mentioned his case to me before. His story is like this: after Chun Ying’s parents divorced, Chun Yin stayed with his father and helped him run stalls selling clothes and VCDs in the morning and at night markets in the evening.
He got to know a regular customer. This customer convinced him to go overseas and bring gold bars into Singapore. All the arrangements were made by this customer. But it turned out that hidden in the bag were not gold bars, but drugs. Chun Yin did not know that drugs were hidden in the bag until the police ripped open the lining of the bag.
He told the court everything, including the identity of the customer and his phone numbers. But the judge did not believe him. My lawyer told me that the police had not done their best to trace this other man, and the judge did not think that it was important.
Naive and ignorant kid
I am not a lawyer, but I cannot understand why they didn’t look for this man. Often it is because of people like him that we are in such a situation. If this man was found, wouldn’t we be able to find out if Chun Yin was telling the truth or not? Chun Yin is currently locked inside here, how can he find the truth himself?
I am beginning to wonder whether there are people who have been wronged. Are all the sentences really fair? If a person has been wronged and hanged, isn’t it extremely tragic?
I have mentioned my next door inmate in one of my earlier letters. He was hanged. Before he died, we talked about a lot of things. He never mentioned his case, but I feel that he was a very young, naive and ignorant kid. He could not face the fact that he was going to die.
That morning, he was dragged out of his cell at 3am. His cries of fear made my heart ache. I kept chanting Buddhist verses, hoping that his suffering would end.
After that, I told the prison warden that even though I am guilty, so is the person who was responsible in making the arrangements for me to carry drugs. I wanted to stop him from harming more people, so I told the police who this person was.
I don’t know what happened next. I heard from my lawyer that he had been detained, but there was no evidence, so he was not charged.
Guilt is presumed
There is still one more thing that I must talk about. About two months ago, there was another inmate. He was older. His appeal was successful and he was released**. I asked my lawyer why; isn’t it very difficult to win an appeal?
The lawyer told me that the Court of Appeal’s decision was like this: this person brought in many different types of drugs, and one of these was heroin. He told the court that he did not know that one of these drugs was heroin.
The court believed him and said that he really didn’t know he was carrying heroin, and so he was released. The lawyer even jokingly told me, if only Chun Yin had said that he knew he was carrying drugs, just not that the drug was heroin, he might have had a chance.
My lawyer also took the opportunity to explain to me the law regarding drug offences, saying that as long as drugs are found on you, guilt is presumed. And if you are carrying more than a certain amount, you will be presumed to be trafficking.
I don’t fully understand, but I think this is very important. Many people don’t know about this, and when they fall on the wrong side of this law, they are sentenced to death.
I find it very strange learning about these cases. How is it that the court can believe this person but not that person; what is the standard and attitude adopted towards drug cases and the death penalty?
My lawyer has tried to explain it to me, but it is too complicated for me and I don’t quite understand so I don’t dare to talk about it here.
I suppose what I can say is to encourage all to go and understand the law.
**Note: The man Vui Kong mentioned to have won his appeal did not get acquitted. He only had his death sentence overturned, and received a different sentence.