Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Malaysia seeks clemency for drug mule facing gallows in Singapore

Malaysia's foreign minister will write to the Singapore government to seek clemency for Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian citizen who was given a mandatory death sentence after being caught while trafficking 47g of heroin into Singapore at the age of 18 in 2007.

"We sympathise with what had transpired and will do everything possible within our powers or diplomatic means to solve the problem," Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters.

The intervention in Yong's case, which I have been following since attending an anti-death penalty forum in Singapore last October, seems somewhat surprising (and rather hypocritical) given that Malaysia also employs the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers.

The move follows pressure from Yong's Singaporean lawyer M Ravi, one of the very few human rights lawyers in the city-state, who has been working hard to try to save Yong's life.

Yong's supporters argue that he was a naive, troubled teenager who had fallen in with the wrong crowd at the time of his arrest and that he deserves a second chance given his lack of previous convictions and the relatively small amount of drugs he was found with.

Ravi also appealed on the grounds that the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking was unconstitutional but that appeal was rejected by Singapore's courts. He is now arguing that comments made by Singapore's law minister have prejudiced Yong's final clemency appeal to Singapore's President.

Singapore has only commuted death sentences in a handful of cases and it seems extremely unlikely that Yong will be spared. Pressure from the Malaysian government may make the Singaporean authorities even less likely to back down.

Whatever the outcome, the campaign to save Yong points to a possible strengthening of civil society in Singapore. Despite the best efforts of a government and a government-controlled media that are not keen to raise sensitive issues like the mandatory death penalty nor to encourage campaigns against government policy, Yong's supporters have succeeded in promoting their cause at home and abroad.

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