Yong Vui Kong (杨伟光), a 23-year old Malaysian, was sentenced to mandatory death in January 2009, for drug trafficking in Singapore. He had exhausted his appeals by August 2010 and he’ll be hang any time! He can only escape execution if the Singapore President grants clemency.
Yong Vui Kong, a 23 year old young man from Sabah, is about to be hanged in Singapore.
On 13 June 2007, he was arrested and later charged with trafficking drug amounting to 47.27g of a controlled drug, namely diamorphine, an offence under s 5(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185). He was convicted in 7 January 2009 and sentenced to death.
He appealed against the decision. But later withdrew his appeal. This is the first in Singapore history that a person convicted of death withdrew the appeal. The reason is that he was made to believe that by appealing, he had to lie in court. He does not want to lie. He in fact admitted that he had carried the drug for his “big brother” but he had no knowledge of the severe consequences. He was told by his “big brother” that is nothing serious. He was 19 years old then. Naïve. He took the path of no return.
He then filed a petition to the President for clemency. This application was however rejected. The State sent a letter to his family to prepare for his funeral whilst Yong donated his organs to the State.
He was due to be executed by 4 December 2009. His mother flew from Sandakan to see him. Nobody mention to his mother of the death sentence. She suffered from depression and had attempted suicide once a few years back. She simply cannot take the blow. Even now, nobody said anything about “death sentence” in front of her, though she knew her son is in trouble in a foreign land. He had embraced Buddhism and is a completely changed person. He told his mother that he is going to a place and will not return.
On 2 December 2009, Mr Ravi (new counsel) got access to him and convinced him to appeal. He agreed to appeal against the sentence and not the conviction. This is a case to challenge the mandatory death sentence in Singapore. This challenged had failed.
On 3 December 2009, Mr Ravi filed an application in court for leave to pursue the appeal, despite it being withdrawn, and accordingly a stay of execution was sought. On the same day, the Court of Appeal allowed the stay of execution.
And the Court of Appeal subsequently allowed his application on 31 December 2009.
Yong Vui Kong’s appeal against the sentence was heard by the Court of Appeal, he challenge that the mandatory death sentence is inhuman and unconstitutional. It was dismissed on 14 May 2010.
Since the appeal is dismissed, Yong has a right to again seek for clemency from the President, which is a right granted to him by the Constitution. That is the final relief that he has. Pursuant to Article 22(p) of the Constitution, the President has the power to commute his sentence, from death sentence to life imprisonment, in accordance with the advise of the Cabinet.
On 9 May 2010, note the date here, it was before the Court of Appeal gave its verdict (on 14 May 2010), the Law Minister of Singapore, K. SHANMUGAM, made this public statement: “Yong Vui Kong (who was sentenced to hang for trafficking 47g of Heroin), he is young. But if we say we let you go what’s the signal we’re sending? We’re sending a signal to all drug barons out there…….just make sure you choose a victim who’s young or a mother of a young child and use them as the people to carry drugs into Singapore. With the sympathy generated after these people are caught he added, there will be a whole unstoppable stream of people coming through as long as we won’t enforce our laws”.
His statement was reported in Straits Times Newspaper.
Yong Vui Kong’s name was specifically mentioned. And he had literally said that his boy must be hanged, before Yong’s appeal is heard. Besides, even if the judge’s decision was not tainted with this remark, it has basically shut the door for his clemency petition.
For a little background, even though the Constitution say the power is on the President on the advise of the Cabinet to grant clemency, the fact is the Cabinet made the decision. So, by the Law Minister remark, the Cabinet had decided “no for Yong Vui Kong” before even hearing him out. Now, even if Yong filed in the petition, what can he expect of the result? If what the Law Minister said is the position of the Government, why then grant the convicted the right for clemency?
The Law Minister’s statement therefore has a far-reaching implication on Yong’s case. It has indeed offends the rules of natural justice, due process and Yong’s constitutional right to seek clemency from the President. A Malaysian national faces injustice in Singapore.
By doing that:-
- the Minister has denied Yong Vui Kong’s right to seek clemency even before he present his petition to the President
- the clemency petition even if presented, has been tainted with biasness and Yong cannot even look for a real decision by the President but only by the Cabinet.
- the Minister’s action has usurped the President’s power under the Constitution.
Counsel for Yong has written to the High Commission of Malaysia in Singapore to seek assistance. No positive actions forthcoming until after the Press Conference on 5.7.2010 and the meeting with the Foreign Minister on the same day, who had agreed to write to the Singapore government to plea for this young man.
The last day for Yong to file petition for clemency is 26.8.2010. After which he will be hanged at anytime.
His counsel filed a case in Singapore to declare that the Law Minister’s remarks/action had deprived Yong of his life and liberty. His case was dismissed by Court of Appeal on 4 April 2011. Yong will submit his clemency petition soon.
Click here to download and read the comprehensive case brief
Read also following write up on Yong’s case
Yong Vui Kong was arrested in 13 June 2007, when he was 19 years old, by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau, Singapore. He was charged with trafficking 42.27 grams of heroin, and then sentenced to death in January 2009. He had exhausted his appeals by August 2010, and can now escape execution only if the Singapore president grants clemency.
He had been working as a messenger for a man in Malaysia who often asked him to collect money from debtors or deliver packages as “gifts” to people in Singapore and Malaysia.
At his trial, Yong Vui Kong said he had not known what was in the packages, and when he asked, he had simply been told not to open them. The judge, however, ruled that Yong must have been aware of their contents, saying in his written summation, “I found that the accused had failed to rebut the presumption against him. I am of the view that the prosecution had proved its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and I therefore found the accused guilty as charged and sentenced him to suffer death.”
Yong was convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which provides that anyone found guilty of illegally importing, exporting or trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin will automatically receive a mandatory death sentence.
Circumstance of Yong Vui Kong (杨伟光）:
On 23 June 2009, the brother of Yong Vui Kong wrote a letter, addressed to President S. R. Nathan and the people of Singapore: “I sincerely hope that all of you will give him a chance to live by pardoning him of his death sentence and commute it into a life sentence so that, as a first offender, he could have an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. He is a remorseful youth now……”
Yong was unable to continue his studies since he was 10 years old. He then started working and fell into company with deviant groups. As seen in the case of most drug runners, Yong did not intentionally take part in drug trade to make profits. The fact is, they are a marginalized group in the society and have limited choice to make their livelihood. Moreover, they may not be aware of the social impact of drug and the legal consequence of drug trade, as the topic of death penalty has scant public debate. Studies have shown that death penalty is disproportionately imposed on the poorest, least educated and most vulnerable group of society.
The trial has given Yong and his family great pressure. Taking account of the background of Yong, the death sentence is unreasonably heavy to the young Malaysian.
Misuse of Drug Acts and Mandatory Sentence:
The death penalty has been employed in Singapore during British colonial rule and was retained after the country became an independent republic in 1965. The crimes relating to misuse of drug, murder, treason, kidnapping and use of firearms may result in mandatory death sentences. The Misuse of Drug Act is one of the Acts providing a mandatory death sentence.
The provision of mandatory death sentence deprives the courts of the discretion to weigh the evidence in capital cases in order to consider mitigating circumstance. Hence, the court is unable to take into account a variety of mitigating or extenuating circumstances that might remove a particular offence from the category of most serious crime.
The Misuse of Drugs Act presumes guilty of the accused. Clause 18 states that anyone found in possession of the keys of anything containing a controlled drug or the keys of any premises where a controlled drug is found, is presumed to have drugs in their possession. The one accused of possessing drug is presumed to know the nature of the drug, unless the contrary can be proved. Furthermore, where one of two or more people, with the knowledge and consent of the others, is in possession of a controlled drug, it is presumed to be in the possession of “each and all of them”.
The allowance for using secret evidence from informers during trials further put the accused into vulnerable position. The use of testimony from an anonymous witness violates the accused’s rights to examine witness and deprives the accused of necessary information to verify or challenge the reliability of the evidence.
The mandatory death sentence and the Misuse of Drug Act violate the right to life and right to fair trial. In 1998, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has urged the government of Singapore to bring the Acts in line with international human rights standards.
Executions of Foreign Nationals:
Singapore is believed to be one of the countries having highest per capita execution rate, relative to the population. Although the Singaporean authorities have not published figures for the number of foreign nationals executed in recent years, according to Amnesty International, out of 174 executions recorded from press report from 1993 to 2003, there were 93 foreign nationals. Foreign nationals facing the death penalty are confronted by additional difficulties threatening their right to life and a fair trial.
Amnesty international Report on Singapore – The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions / Local source