Monday, September 28, 2009

World Day Against the Death Penalty (Singapore)

Forum & campaign to save the life of Yong Vui Kong.

Saturday, October 10, 2009
2:30pm – 5:30pm
Oxford Hotel, 218 Queen Street, Singapore

DP_Flyer_newAs the World Day against Death Penalty approaches on 10th October 2009, we the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign call upon the Singapore government to join 138 states throughout the world that have ceased executions in law or practice.

We mark this day by campaigning for the clemency of Yong Vui Kong, 21,a Malaysian who had been sentenced to death as a result of drug trafficking. He was 19 when he was caught for drug trafficking in June 2007.

Singapore is estimated to have one of the highest per capita executions rates in the world.Most death sentences in Singapore follow convictions for drug trafficking. The misuse of Drugs Act provides at least 20 different offences and contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the Prosecution to the Defence. The UN Rights Committee have concluded that the death penalty for drug offences fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extra judicial, summary or arbitrary executions has called for the death penalty to be eliminated for drug-related offences and has argued that the mandatory nature of the sentence is a violation of international legal standards.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters serious crimes in general more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations (UN) in 1988 and updated in 1996 and 2002, concluded: “…research has failed to provide the scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis.”

Yong Vui Kong is a case of a youth who had fallen into the snare of drug trafficking against the backdrop of his vulnerable circumstances. His parents were divorced when he was 10 and had to stop education as he comes from a poor family. His mother suffers from depression and is still kept in the dark about her son’s impending execution. His clemency petition had been submitted to the President a month ago.

We ask that the Ministry of Home Affairs provide annual statistics of executions in Singapore which is part of public information as acknowledged by the Minister of Law recently.

Please join us on 10 October 2009 at 2.30 pm, Oxford Hotel, to mark the World Day against Death Penalty in Singapore and say no to the execution of Yong Vui Kong by signing a petition to the President. This is one of the ways to tell the state that it does not have your mandate to go ahead with its planned execution of Yong Vui Kong which is done on behalf of the people.

In peace,
M. Ravi
Convenor of Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign

Forum speakers:
M. Ravi, Human Rights lawyer
Alex Au, Yawning Bread
Sinapan Samydorai, Thinkcentre
Breama Mathi, Maruah
Agnes Chia, Social worker
Moderated by local artist Alfian Saat

To visit the event’s facebook page click here


Anonymous said...

"Yong Vui Kong is a case of a youth who had fallen into the snare of drug trafficking against the backdrop of his vulnerable circumstances."

If you are against the death penalty in principle, you are against sending anyone to the gallows whether or not he or she is from an unprivileged background.

The quote above betrays the wavering commitment to the cause. Worse of all, it suggests that society goes soft on crime, or that the criminal is not a criminal because it is society which creates him.

Seelan Palay said...

Dear Anonymous,

Of course we are against the death penalty being used on anyone from any background.

What the quote is trying to highlight however, is that very often it is the very poor who in desperation traffic drugs despite knowing the consequences.

Yourself and everyone else are encouraged to read Amnesty International's FAQ on the Death Penalty:

Anonymous said...

No matter how poor one may be and we have many in Malaysia there is no need to trade in drugs.This is the trade of the DEVIL where the innocent fell prey and some even die on overdose.Yong VUi Kong looks healthy and well fed as compared to the many who work to their bones to eke out a living in plantations and furnace like conditions in factories and still find no need to trade in drugs for a living.

Seelan Palay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seelan Palay said...

There are also poor young people from the plantations that have been conned by dealers into drug trafficking. P

Perhaps you should have a read of the Amnesty International article, unless of course you'd rather pass your judgment based on your biased views alone:

Anonymous said...

mr.Seelan, you seemed to miss my point.I said need to and not conned into or want to for the easy money.

That is not being biased but a fact of life.Either you are honest and hardworking or greedy and corrupt.

Seelan Palay said...

I got your point and that's why I'm responding because that is not a fact of life.

Every child is born innocent, and it is his or her socio-economic background, upbringing and personal life experiences that cause him or her to live in their respective ways.

Anonymous said...

"What the quote is trying to highlight however, is that very often it is the very poor who in desperation traffic drugs despite knowing the consequences."

Dear Seelan,

You seem to suggest that Mr. Yong KNOWINGLY trafficked drugs despite the punitive punishment in store for offenders. You suggest that he did so, in spite of the punitive punishment which now awaits him, because of circumstances. Could you tell me more about his personal circumstances that were so dire that he would put his life at risk?

A defence in Mr. Yong's favour would be more compelling had he been duped into doing so. But knowing that he knowingly did what he did, he has no such recourse.

In any case, I would like to solicit your opinion on this matter: are human beings so powerless, so devoid of agency, that they cannot help but to succumb to the vagaries of circumstances?


Anonymous said...

Dear Seelan,

This is my third post. I sent in a rejoinder to your reply to my first post earlier today, but upon thinking about it, I realised that I could have responded to your reply differently and less charitably (in terms of argumentation).

Allow me to quote from your reply. You said: "Of course we are against the death penalty being used on anyone from any background.

What the quote is trying to highlight however, is that very often it is the very poor who in desperation traffic drugs despite knowing the consequences."

To reproduce my arguments (from the first post), what I am saying is that it is not necessary to highlight the disproportionate incidence of the death penalty among the underprivileged of society.

There are several implications which follow from doing so, and the one which I would like to press home at present is the ambiguity behind your claim, as well as Amnesty's, that the death penalty should be opposed in principle. Put simply, there is no need to highlight Mr. Yong's personal circumstance at all, or the more general point that it is always the necks of the underprivileged which find their way in the noose.

The intended effect seems to be emotive: that somehow, the law is doubly faulty since laws by their nature punish the have-nots more often than not. But in this case, why should this consideration matter? To raise it at all does not make the death penalty anymore unjust as it should already be if one is opposed in principle to it.

Let's put it this way: would you be as roused in your efforts had it been a rich kid in Mr. Yong's place? My point is that you should be, but on the basis of your opposition towards the death penalty as an abhorent albeit legal punishment. And this should be the case without any knowledge of the personal circumstance of the criminal in question. The opposition be categorical and thus 'blind' to the distinction between rich and poor, the vulnerable or invulnerable sections of the population.


Seelan Palay said...

Hi Anonymous, let me clarify by saying I heard today from Vui Kong's brother that he had been told by his "boss/big brother" that trafficking drugs into Singapore does not carry a Death Penalty.

Although Vui Kong may not have known the consequences, there are many others who do. But I apologise if my statement suggested that he did.

"Are human beings so powerless, so devoid of agency, that they cannot help but to succumb to the vagaries of circumstances?" I'd say that every human being has different levels of strengths and thresholds. Some succumb easier than others and their socio-economic background, upbringing and personal life experiences are all factors that contribute to this.

And yes I would be as roused in my efforts if had it been a rich kid in Mr. Yong's place too because the suffering entailed is all the same. But although Singapore has the highest number of executions per capita in the world, unfortunately only few cases are revealed by lawyers and state counsel.

But it's known that the Death Penalty is carried out on the poorest, least educated peoples of the planet and that is a cause for alarm because some of these human beings may have not made the decision to traffic drugs or engage in other similar acts if they had received better education. Is enough being done to help the structurally poor and marginalized? And do they have access or the ability to afford good counsel if they are facing a death sentence?

Please read about the case of Julia Bohl, why do you think she was miraculously spared?:

Julia Bohl, a young German, was caught in 2002 with cannabis (also known as marijuana) and small quantities of synthetic drugs. When she was first charged, she was accused of trafficking in 687 grams of cannabis, as can be seen from the Straits Times story of 22 March 2002:

A student who has lived in Singapore for several years, Bohl is charged with possessing 687 grams (24 ounces) of marijuana "for the purpose of trafficking."

The volume exceeds the 500-gram minimum required for the mandatory death penalty, which is carried out by hanging, according to the Central Narcotics Bureau, which made the arrests.

Her case attracted huge interest in Germany, and enormous pressure was applied by the German government on Singapore, though this facet was not much reported in the local media.

A week or so later, the quantity was changed. As reported by CNN on 28 March 2002:

A German woman convicted for drug trafficking in Singapore will no longer face the death penalty.

Julia Bohl, 23, was charged for carrying over 600 grams of cannabis two weeks ago. Under Singapore law, facing the gallows is mandatory for trafficking 500 grams or more.

However, a chemist's analysis revealed that the block of vegetable matter she was carrying only contained 281 grams, leaving Bohl still facing up to 20 years in prison.

The huge change left many people incredulous. It was explained that 687 was the gross weight of the material seized, but it was only equivalent to 281 grams of cannabis in its pure form.

The law itself is not clear on this. Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Line 5 (6) (b), specifies death as the penalty for "Unauthorised traffic in cannabis where the quantity is more than 500 grammes", but it doesn't say anything about gross weight or "pure" weight.

Bohl was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment. After serving 3 years, with 2 years deducted for good behaviour, she was released in July 2005 and promptly sent back to Germany.

Anonymous said...

Dear Seelan,

Thank you for the response.

I don't know where you are leading me with Ms. Bohl's case. Would you care to elaborate?

You appear to suggest that, if I could speculate as circumstances force me to, some lives are worth more than others: in this case, a German as opposed to a Malaysian one.

If that is indeed your suggestion, the counterclaim would involve one Johannes van Damme, a Dutch national who was sentenced to death for trafficking over four kilograms of heroin.

As to why there might be a discrepancy between the Bohl and the van Damme case (leaving aside the ambiguity of the law which in the end favoured Ms. Bohl as you correctly pointed out), the contraband in question is significant -- marijuana on the one hand and heroin on the other.


Seelan Palay said...

Thank you Anonymous for bringing up the Johannes van Damme's case. It goes further to demonstrate that justice is not always administered without fear or favour - in some countries more than others.

Anonymous said...

"Thank you Anonymous for bringing up the Johannes van Damme's case. It goes further to demonstrate that justice is not always administered without fear or favour - in some countries more than others."

Dear Seelan,

Now, now. Don't be hasty. Shall we be led to conclude that Mr. Yong should be hung on a rope to put right the reputation of the law?

Anonymous said...

... Or, extradite Ms. Bohl a la Polanski and hang her?

Now, that would be Uniquely Singapore.

Seelan Palay said...

Now, now, don't be hasty and don't get me wrong.

I'm saying that justice should be meted out fairly.

I'm against the death penalty being used against anyone from any background because I feel the penalty itself is unfair. It is unfair because it gives no room for rehabilitation, and worse, no chance to reverse the hanging of an innocent.

Of course lawmakers can disagree with my calling it unfair. But case studies seem to show that they themselves are not applying the law fairly to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Dear Seelan,

Thanks for corresponding with me.

In any case, will you be providing a write-up of the event? To my knowledge, Alex Au has posted his speech on his blog. Is it possible get access to the rest of the presentations?

Thank you.

Seelan Palay said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your correspondence as well. I've found it hard to make time to focus and reply to you but I tried my best.

We are working on a video of the event and will be doing a report. I'll post updates on my blog.

Best regards,
Seelan palay

Anonymous said...

Dear Seelan,

Apologies unnecessary.

Thank you for the update. Looking forward to the report.