Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Malaysia government writes to Singapore President for clemency for Vui Kong

Update from CNA: MFA confirms clemency appeal letter received for convicted Malaysian drug trafficker

SINGAPORE : Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has confirmed that it has received a letter of appeal for clemency for convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong.

It said the letter of appeal is from Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.

MFA said the letter has been referred to the legal authorities.

Yong, 22, was convicted and sentenced to death last year. - CNA/ms

Source: The Star

THE Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the Singapore government last week to plead for clemency for young Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, who was sentenced to death in the city state for drug trafficking.
Deputy Foreign Minister A. Kohilan Pillay told senator Datuk Saripah Aminah Syed Mohamed that the letter from Wisma Putra was addressed to the President of Singapore for his consideration.
“Yong’s family had also written to the President of Singapore,” he said.
Yong, 22, was convicted on Jan 7 last year for trafficking in 47gm of diamorphine, a capital offence under the Singaporea Misuse of Drugs Act.
Yong was arrested on June 13, 2007. He was 18 when he committed the offence.
The last day for Yong to file his petition for clemency is Aug 26, after which he may be hanged at any time.
In his reply, Kohilan also said two Malaysians, convicted of drug trafficking in China and Japan respectively, had their sentences reduced.
In the case of Umi Azlim Mohammad Lazim, who was also sentenced to death by a High Court in Guangzhou, China, her death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.
The former Universiti Malaysia Sabah student from Kelantan was found guilty of trafficking in 2.983kg of heroin in Shantao airport, and was sentenced to death on May 15, 2007 at the age of 23.
In the case of Raja Munirah Iskandar Shah, who was convicted of trafficking in 690.8g of syabu in Narita International Airport in 2006 at the age of 21, her sentence was reduced from seven years and four months to six years and nine months.

Yong Vui Kong’s counsel, Mr M Ravi has filed in the Judicial Review in High Court on 21 July 2010.

The hearing is scheduled on this coming Wednesday, 28 July 2010 at 10am at the High Court of the Republic of Singapore.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Good Fight

Lianian Films: The Good Fight

My heart leapt when I saw this status update on Vui Fung’s Facebook page a couple of weeks ago:

“I try my best to face all of this… I never wanna try to hide it again…”

It was a huge step for her - this shy, awkward girl who hates being in the limelight, hates talking to strangers, hates making a fuss of anything. I messaged her. She told me she had decided to be brave. She would stand up, speak out, do everything necessary to help save her brother, Vui Kong.

This past week, she showed me she meant what she said.

Thursday, she attended the launch of the “Save Yong Vui Kong” campaign in her hometown, Sandakan. Sat up front with her brother’s lawyers and some other Very Important People, handed out petition forms, and didn’t once try to shy away when the press asked her questions.

Friday, she hit the streets with activists, politicians, friends and some relatives. At first, she hung back, approaching only the people she knew, urging them to sign a petition in support of her brother’s plea for a second chance. Twice, she nearly chickened out. We could tell it was incredibly stressful for her. She'd never ever been an activist. And this was her brother she was fighting for. So much was at stake. There was a look of panic on her face each time she walked up to a new person.

But she pressed on. And as the day progressed, she got bolder and started approaching everyone and anyone she came across - aunties at the market, kopitiam ah peks, old makciks drinking tea, teachers, shopkeepers, random strangers… they all signed the petition. She even managed to smile when people pointed at her and exclaimed, “You’re the sister!”

She collected more than 30 signatures that day. We congratulated her. “Not enough,” she said.

On our last evening in Sandakan, she came to our hotel with a laptop and a stack of photographs. There were dark circles under her eyes. We told her to go home and get some rest. But she said there was one last thing she had to do.

She wanted to write to President Nathan. And she wanted to combine her letter with photographs of Vui Kong, her family and other supporters. It was 11pm when she started work. She was cranky and nervous and jittery - terrified the President would be put off by her bad grammar, her inability to properly express herself. We told her to calm down and write from her heart. She shooed us away.

She drafted and redrafted the text. Didn’t sleep all night. And when we woke up, the letter was nearly done. Nearly. She fussed over punctuation marks, and sentence structure. Wrote and cancelled paragraphs. Glued, and unstuck photographs.

She only stopped to accompany us to the airport. There, she found a quiet spot, ordered us to go sit somewhere else, and continued working. She finished just before the final call. As we said goodbye, she asked if we thought the President would even bother reading what she had written.

I paused, searched for words, told her the truth, "I don't know, but I hope so."

But she seemed not to have heard me. Her mind was already racing ahead. "More signatures," she said. "We must collect many more signatures."

Please support Vui Fung's fight to save her brother's life. Sign the petition here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

TOC: Save Vui Kong Campaign kicks off in Sabah

TOC: Save Vui Kong Campaign kicks off in Sabah


 Malaysian politicians and activists have started the campaign to save 22-year old Vui Kong from the death sentence in Singapore. The event kicked off with a press conference held in Sandakan, Sabah, the hometown of Vui Kong. Sabah Member of Parliament, Datuk Chua Soon Bui, and Vui Kong’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, were present to lend support to the campaign. So were Vui Kong’s younger sister, Vui Fung, and older brother, Yun Leong, as well as dozens of relatives and supporters.

Datuk Chua said: ”This campaign is for humanity. It is above politics. We appeal to the state government to intervene and support us.”

Datuk Chua also pointed out that Yong can give back to society by reaching out to young people who might be vulnerable to drug traffickers. Rather than kill him, he should be allowed to repent and share his story.
Campaigners will hit the streets of Sandakan tomorrow (23 July, Friday) to appeal to the public to support their cause. They hope to collect 100,000 signatures by August 23. (To sign the petition, please click here.)
Vui Kong has until 26 August 2010 to file an appeal for clemency with the Singapore president. As there is only about a month before the deadline for the clemency appeal, TOC will carry news and reports of the campaign as and when they happen.

Here are some pictures from Sabah of the press conference in Sabah on Thursday.
M Ravi (with MP Chua): ”He is not a criminal. He is a victim of poverty.” During the press conference in Sandakan, Ravi explained how Singapore’s Law Minister K Shanmugum’s comments about Yong had prejudiced his clemency appeal. ”We are here on a united front to save this boy from being unfairly executed.”

Ngeow Chow Ying, Yong’s Malaysian lawyer: ”Everyone’s life is precious and worth fighting for. Yong Vui Kong is still so young. He comes from an impoverished background. He deserves a second chance. He can be a strong anti-drug advocate. Who doesn’t deserve a second chance?”

“The death penalty is a controversial issue, but the fundamental question is, can it solve problems? What purpose does killing this boy serve? What problem does it solve?”

Stephen Wong Tien Fatt, Sandakan community leader: ”Everyone knows Yong Vui Kong committed a crime. He knows that too. He is repentant. He deserves a second chance.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vui Kong's letter to mum

The letter Vui Kong wrote to his mum on her birthday

In the letter Vui Kong told his mum that the brothers have been visiting him in prison. He talks about the benefits of practicing Buddhism, his Buddhist beliefs and how he recommends good books to his brothers whenever he finds one. 

Campaign Launched for Vui Kong - 2nd Chance

From 2ndchance4yong

July 21, 2010
Youthful folly led an 18-year-old to drug-trafficking. Today, at 22, he pledges his remaining life to campaign against drug-trafficking and drug abuse. Should his life ends tomorrow to deny him and others like him a second chance?

The Save Vui Kong Campaign (SVKC) today calls upon elected representatives and members of the public to plead to His Excellency Singapore President Sellapan Ramanathan to grant clemency to death convict Yong Vui Kong.

Yong may be hanged anytime after this 26 August if his plea for clemency is rejected.
Unfortunately, his right to seek clemency under the Singapore’s Constitution has been compromised by statement of the Hon. Minister of Law K. Shanmugan.

Even before his clemency plea is officially filed, Mr Shanmugan was quoted to have told the press: “Yong Vui Kong (who was sentenced to hang for trafficking in 47g of heroin) 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.”

Singapore’s Unrecognized Ally in Anti-Drug Campaign

The real signal Singapore is sending should Vui Kong be pardoned is exactly the opposite to what Mr Shanmugan has second guessed.

Vui Kong is a completely changed person after his arrest. He has found his spiritual salvation in Buddhism and vowed to use his remaining days to counsel lost souls like he once was and to campaign against drug-trafficking and drug-abuse.

Vui Kong who just want to redeem his past sins is actually an unrecognized ally of the Singapore Government in the latter’s anti-drug campaign. Executing him will not stop the next drug trafficker, just like the execution of previous traffickers did not stop Vui Kong, who was illiterate and did not know even about the death penalty.

Keeping Vui Kong alive may however may. He will do whatever he can to get his message of regret and redemption out to many young lives and saving them from drugs.

A second chance for Vui Kong is therefore also a second chance for many others out there.

What the Elected Representatives Can Do
All 222 members of parliamentarians from the Dewan Rakyat, 69 sitting Senators and 60 state assemblypersons of Sabah are invited to personally make their plea. We have prepared a card for them to sign and mail it back using a stamped self-addressed envelope by next Friday (31 July 2010). Concerned state assemblypersons from other states are welcome to join. We will then present these personal plea cards together to the Istana – Office of the President of Singapore.

What the Members of the Public Can Do
Members of the public can go online to endorse a petition to the Singapore president at SaveVK/petition.html. They can help the campaign further by printing the petition and signature form (available in three languages) to collect signatures from families, friends, colleagues and even strangers. The URLs for downloads are kl6t1gf5ss
(English Version) ibce9v8kcd
(Mandarin Version) daqymy6vtu
(Bahasa Malaysia Version)

Completed signature forms should be mailed to reach the address below by August 22 

“Save Vui Kong” Campaign
Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
Jalan Maharajalela,
50150 Kuala Lumpur,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yong Vui Kong's Journey

Yong Vui Kong's Journey
An account of Yong Vui Kong's life

Vui Fung, Vui Kong, Ah Lun, Yun Leong with their mother

Yong Vui Kong, born to a family of 6, went through a turbulent childhood when his parents divorced while he was very young. As a result his mother had to raise the kids singlehandedly. 

Being a dishwasher she brought home RM$200 a month, and the family had to scrap by at the most basic sustenance level. 

Eventually this paved the way for Vui Kong's departure from their hometown of Sabah, East Malaysia to the big city of Kuala Lumpur. 

 Vui Kong with brothers during happier days

In 2002, Vui Kong the country boy left Sabah for KL, bringing nothing but him and the desire to make it big. 

A young and rebellious Vui Kong

He was described by his family as "rebellious", often mixing with bad company and getting into trouble. Yet, Vui Kong would be the apple in his mother's eyes. He treated his siblings well, especially Vui Fung who would often relate how much Vui Kong doted on her, even though he would sometimes throw his temper at home when things were not going well for him. 

Vui Fung (Fung Fung) with Vui Kong 

But all these was not meant to last. 

Vui Kong worked as a kitchen hand in KL, but was later introduced to a gang, whose boss showered him with 5 star hotel stays and treated him to meals he could never be able to afford. 

Vui Kong mixed with the wrong company, which eventually sealed his fate

Eventually Vui Kong went from debt collecting to "delivering gifts". These gifts turned out to be drugs. At that young and impressionable age, Vui Kong had no idea that the penalty for trafficking of drug was mandatory death. 

The "gifts" that Vui Kong delivered to Singapore

At 18, Yong Vui Kong was conscripted for National Service. He would later return to KL back to the same boss who provided him with work and lead him on to be a drug runner. 

Vui Kong would later shuttle back and forth Singapore and Malaysia several times until he was caught in June 2007 with possession of 47g of heroin. Yong was 18 and a half years old at the time of arrest. Singapore drug laws stipulate mandatory death for 18 years and above. Vui Kong faced certain death the moment he was caught by narcotics officers. 

Vui Kong, represented by state-assigned counsel Kelvin Lim, was trialed in Singapore High Court. 

Justice Choo Han Teck found Vui Kong too young to be dealt with the mandatory death sentence

Before passing the judgement, trial judge Justice Choo Han Teck summoned both the defence and presecution into chamber and asked the prosecution if they would consider reducing the charge given the relatively young age of the drug offender, who was not even 19 at the age of the offence. The prosecution declined and the death sentence was handed to Vui Kong.

Yong's then defence counsel, following the common practice for almost all capital cases for drug trafficking, was preparing to take the case to the Court of Appeal. 

Kelvin Lim, under specific instruction from his client, withdrew the Appeal.

Changi Prison customary photo taking session before execution

At this point in time, Vui Kong's sister, Fung Fung, had already bought a shirt and pants for her brother. It is customary for prisoners on death row to don on their best in a bizzare and morbid prison practice - photos of the prisoner in various poses will be shot and the pictures will be sent to the convict's family after the execution.

"I don't want to lie to save myself."

Vui Kong instructed his lawyer to withdraw the appeal

Why did Vui Kong withdraw the appeal?

Apparently, he was under the impression that a High Court Appeal could only work if there are new evidence to prove that he was innocent of the charge, and he thought that the only way out was to lie to be able to save himself. 

After taking up Buddhism as his religion while in prison, Vui Kong did not want to lie which was a sin according to Buddhist beliefs, he therefore instructed his counsel to withdraw the Appeal. 

Vui Kong did not know that he involuntarily extended his stay in this world by withdrawing his own High Court Appeal, the only legal lifeline available to him.

Because of this withdrawal, the high Court hastened the execution process and ordered Yong to be executed on 4th December 2009.

M. Ravi intervenes

M. Ravi holding a picture of a Buddha like figure drawn by Yong while in prison

Singapore human rights lawyer Madasamy Ravi got wind of Yong's case. He promptly took over the case from Yong's counsel Kelvin Lim after a court hearing.

Ravi submitted a clemency appeal to the Singapore President, but on 20th November, it was rejected by the Istana.

Yong was granted a rare last minute stay of execution

Two days before Yong's scheduled execution, Ravi made an application for a stay of execution for Vui Kong pending a High Court hearing for an appeal. The Court of Appeal had previously not heard Vui Kong's case as his defence lawyer had withdrawn it.

Vui Kong broke down in court when he heard his execution on Friday was stayed

 The judge decided that he was not in the position to make the decision for the Court of Appeal, granted the stay of execution for Vui Kong. Vui Kong, who was present in court, broke down and cried when he heard the news.

Vui Kong Finally meet his mother after two years of incarceration

A day after the court's decision, Yong met his mother, who came to Singapore accompanied by his siblings. Upon seeing his mother, Yong knelt and bowed to her three times in a show of respect. 

Vui Kong's mother still does not know that her son had been sentenced to death.

For fear that she may commit suicide due to suffering from chronic depression, Vui Kong's family had kept his fate away from her. The only idea she has of why her son is in jail is that "he had committed a very serious matter and that he will be gone for a very long time in order to atone for his sins and will not return unless he has attained self fulfillment". 

On 8th December, Vui Kong received a 2nd stay of execution, this time from the Court of Appeal. The stay of execution was in effect until the Appeal was presented and debated in court. The court gave the defence much needed time to prepare the case, and activists more time to campaign for it. 

Yong outlived his original death sentence for a full 4 months. This was something he never saw coming on the eve of his execution.

Campaigns to save Vui Kong

Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign flyer

Ravi, in the months after the court's decision to grant the stay of execution, set off to do his research, pro bono. He engaged the help of Queen's counsels in London, dug up the various developments in other Commonwealth countries on the mandatory death penalty and at the end compiled an appeal submission 5 volumes thick. 

London team of lawyers who provided valuable research and help: Parvais Jabbar, Edward Fitzgerald QC, M. Ravi and Saul Lehrfreund

On 15th March the high Court convened for Vui Kong's appeal. After both sides presented their cases and arguments, the judges praised M. Ravi for the effort he had put into his submission and thanked him for providing the court with an update on current international practices with regards to the death penalty. They decided to reserve judgement on the hearing until further notice. (credits to TOC)

"The court acknowledge that the mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment," - Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

On 14th May, the Court of Appeal duly rejected the appeal. But it acknowledged that the mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment. 

In June, Vui Kong's counsel M. Ravi made a trip down to KL in an attempt to rally the Malaysians together over the case. 

There was a buzz initially when the Malaysian online media carried Vui Kong's story, but it fizzled out after a week or two. 

Umi Azlim, the Malaysian girl sentenced to death for drug trafficking

In 2007, Umi Azlim was sentenced to death in China. Curiously, she had a sentence commuted to life imprisonment after the Malaysian government appeal to the Chinese government citing compassionate grounds. 

Vui Kong received no such attention from the Malaysian government.

No Political Mileage 

"Probably because he presents no political mileage. He is first of all a (Malaysian) Chinese, and a Sabahan." 

But the Malaysian media had their ways. many online media outlets, especially MalaysiaKini, ran a media blitz over Vui Kong's case and nudge the Malaysian government to do something to help the boy who was facing the gallows overseas. 

Ravi with MP Tian Chua and Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman (Photo: TOC)

But all was not lost. On 3rd July it was announced that PKR's MP Tian Chua would table a debate on Vui Kong's case in Parliament the following Monday. It was rejected by the Speaker of Parliament, but a press conference was held and Malaysia's Foreign Minister was present. 

 "After all, I am a Sabahan too” - Malaysia's FM Anifah Aman pledged to assist in Yong's case

He told Ravi and the Malaysian press, “All things aside, if I save one life it will give me great satisfaction. After all, I am a Sabahan too”, referring to the Malaysian state where Yong comes from. (Credit: TOC)

After his statement, almost all media outlets in Malaysia carried the news. 

Malaysian activists promptly got to work to set up a site, 2ndChance4Yong, to campaign for Vui Kong.

For the first time, Yong did not just have to rely on Singapore, he had the support of the people from his country as well. 

 Give Life 2nd Chance

The campaign for Vui Kong, Give Life 2nd Chance, was launched and the petition gathered over 3000 signatures in a few days. The campaign also rallied Malaysian Parliamentarians together to show support for a President clemency to spare Yong's life based on compassionate ground. 

Ngeow Chow Ying, Syed Husin and Tunku Abdul Aziz

Malaysians brought it a step further. On 21 July, Malaysian lawyer and campaign coordinator Ngeow Chow Ying, together with Dewan Negara senators, came together for a press conference to plea for clemency for Vui Kong and rally Malaysians' support.

She said, "We understand Singapore, like Malaysia, has a strict policy against drug trafficking which carries a mandatory death penalty. However, given that the constitution allows clemency plea for persons sentenced to death means that no sentence of capital punishment is by default excluded from reconsideration for a second chance."

Soon after, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman wrote to Singapore President S.R. Nathan, requesting clemency on compassionate grounds. The President did not reply to the letter.

Give Vui Kong a Second Chance

Increasingly, Singaporeans were getting aware that judicial hangings for drug trafficking were done in the name of the people. On Aug 2, more than 150 people turned up at Speakers’ Corner to support the petition for clemency for Yong Vui Kong.

The family had to walk to the back of the Istana to submit the clemency petition 

The Save Vui Kong campaign saw more than 109 346 signatures collected over the span of more than a month. These signatures together with a formal clemency petition, were submitted to the President at the Istana on 24 Aug 2010.

 The family, together with Sabah Member of Parliament Datuk Chua Soon Bui, faced curt security officers who merely took the piles of signatures and repeatedly told them to leave. Deflated, disappointed and anxious, the family walked back in tears.

Protest outside S'pore High Commission

Yong’s original deadline for filing his Petition for Clemency to the President was 26 August. It was feared that he would be hanged soon after that deadlineIn the face of imminent execution of Vui Kong, Malaysian lawyers and parliamentarians rallied together and protested outside the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on 26 August. 

One of the lawyers and Malaysian Member of Parliament, S. Manickavasagam said if Yong Vui Kong is hung, they will come in a big group and bring a coffin box to be placed in front of the High Commission. 

Another stay of execution for Vui Kong, left

The Singapore Prisons Department in a letter dated 25 Aug 2010 replied Yong's lawyer M. Ravi that he would be granted an extension to file his clemency appeal to the President. The confirmation of extension comes as a relief to Mr Ravi who had repeatedly asked the SPS for the confirmation since 18 August. 

What was Vui Kong doing all these while? 

Vui Kong, remorseful but hopeful to live and contribute to society

Meanwhile, Vui Kong had been brushing up on his English. In his possession is a Chinese-English dictionary and some Buddhist texts. He tries his best to learn English, a new language to him, for the purpose of communicating with his lawyer. 

Periodically he pen letters to his family and friends, sharing religious teachings, gratitude and encouragement. He wakes up early every morning to meditate.  

When the court granted him a stay of execution last December, one of the first people to pay Vui Kong a visit was his lawyer, M. Ravi. During the meeting, Vui Kong presented him a gift – a picture that had taken him weeks to complete. He would kneel for hours as he drew. The picture is a colourful interpretation of one of the manifestations of Lord Buddha, standing at the gates of hell, saving souls from eternal damnation.
“He is remorseful and feels he should be severely punished,” his brother Yun Leong explained, “but he wants to live so he can continue seeing us, seeing our mother again. He wants to keep learning and meditating and being a better person.”

To be continued...
Updated 27th Aug 2010