Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How many need to die?

Hello everyone,

Vui Kong and his mother
It's been awhile since I have written in this blog. Since January, there hasn't been much news on Yong Vui Kong's case to update everyone with. The verdict for his last appeal (17 January 2011) will be delivered on 4 April 2011. I'll be there, hoping for good news. Anyone who wants to send a message to him (no matter whether you did or not the last time 'round), feel free to send it to webelieveinsecondchances[at]gmail[dot]com. We'll do our best to get it passed on to Vui Kong.

Apart from Vui Kong, though, I learned about two "new" death penalty cases in the past week alone. I would have blogged about them sooner, but I wanted to find out more and collect my thoughts before I wrote anything. It's always hard to wrap my head around the thought that more people might die just because we decided that they should.

Last Thursday I made a trip to Johor Bahru, my first time in years. I went to visit Cheong Kah Pin, the father of Cheong Chun Yin (Ah, a 27-year-old man on death row in Singapore. (The report I wrote about his case is here on The Online Citizen.)

Cheong Chun Yin
Cheong has exhausted all his appeals. He has already filed his clemency petition to President S R Nathan in January. The President is expected to reply by the end of April. If his petition is rejected, Cheong can be hung as early as the second week of May.

His father, Mr Cheong, is at the end of his rope. He is a hawker, opening a makeshift stall at the night markets, and sometimes the morning market as well. These days, he tells us, he tries his best to work as much as possible. It's not because he needs the money, but because he cannot stand sitting alone in the house he used to share with his son, the only child who stayed with him after he divorced his wife years ago.

He struggles to make sense of what has happened. "I cannot accept this," he keeps saying. "Just like that, my son's life is going to be taken."

Right now, his son is alive. He is in jail, but alive. He can visit him every Monday, talk and keep him company for some time. But if the petition gets turned down... one Friday morning his son is going to be removed from his cell and taken to the gallows. At 6am on that morning, a father will lose his son, an able-bodied, healthy son who had been so close to him through all the ups and downs of the years gone by.

Mr Cheong, talking to us about his son

Does this seem right to you? Who are we punishing now?

Atiqah and her little daughter
At the same time, I'm also reading about the case of Noor Atiqah M. Lasim. Her situation is reversed from that of Vui Kong and Ah Yin – instead of a Malaysian on death row in Singapore, she is a Singaporean on death row in Malaysia. It's a stark reminder that both countries are in the minority of nations in the world who have the mandatory death penalty (MDP) for drug trafficking, a situation that anti-death penalty activists in both countries are trying to change.

Atiqah's friends and family say that she was misled and tricked by her Nigerian boyfriend, and that the drugs that were found in her possession did not belong to her. She is yet another unwitting mule who must now pay the price. This is not a new story. So many have already fallen into this situation. So many have already lost their lives because of it. And still it goes on.

Atiqah's supporters have started their own blog, Save Atiqah, and are trying to raise more money for the legal expenses that will be incurred as they fight for her life in the courts. I admire the strength in her family and friends and their determination to save their loved one, and hope that Second Chances will be able to help them in some way.

Vui Kong, Ah Yin and Atiqah are only 3 of the many, many people who have either been executed, or have been sentenced to death. Their lives hang in the balance, not because of illness or accidents or injury, but because we, represented by our country's laws, condemn them.

We are told that the death penalty is necessary because it deters people from trafficking drugs, keeping our streets and families safe. But my question is this: how many more need to die? It clearly can't be that effective now, or we wouldn't have cases like Vui Kong, Ah Yin or Atiqah. The effectiveness of the death penalty should have put an end to such occurrences. So how many more need to lose their lives before the death penalty really stops drugs, or we realise that it is time for a change?

Yes, Vui Kong, Ah Yin and Atiqah have made mistakes in their lives. Judging from the situations they are in now, they've probably made some pretty big ones. But how many of us haven't made any mistakes ever, big or small? Are the mistakes they made enough to give us the right to say, "YES, YOU SHOULD DIE"? Can we not find it within ourselves to say, "You made a mistake, but you should have the chance to try again and to redeem yourself"?

I hope that both the Singaporean and Malaysian governments will be able to be merciful and compassionate enough to give these people a chance. But I know that my single wish, my single hope, will not be enough to persuade them. I hope that you will join me and support the campaigns and activists who are trying to stimulate debate on the mandatory death penalty, and who are doing their best every day to get a second chance for Vui Kong, Ah Yin and Atiqah.

With love,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Political Parties and the MDP

The elections are drawing nearer. People are abuzz with the recently announced budget, and bread-and-butter issues are hot topics of discussion. This year, Singaporeans will once again cast their votes, determine the direction of the country for the next 5 to 6 years.

Through all of this, I cannot help thinking, “What about Vui Kong?”

Since his last appeal hearing on the 17th of January, Vui Kong has been on death row in Changi Prison, waiting for his verdict. Waiting, waiting, while Singapore moves on.

I'm not saying that the bread-and-butter issues aren't important. However, we need to also remember that the mandatory death penalty, and Vui Kong's case, also reflects upon the country we call home. So, as a young Singaporean and first-time voter, I decided to email the different political parties and ask them about their stance on the mandatory death penalty.

These are the parties I emailed:
People's Action Party (PAP)
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)
Reform Party (RP)
National Solidarity Party (NSP)
Socialist Front (SF)
Singapore People's Party (SPP)
Worker's Party (WP)

Both email addresses I tried for the Singapore People's Party bounced back, so perhaps they never got my message. Apart from that, though, I received replies from two parties: SDP and RP.

SDP's reply was short and simple:
The SDP's stand on the mandatory death penalty for drug peddlers is clear: We don't support it.

RP stated that they would abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, and attached a past press statement:
The Reform Party Calls For Abolition of Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking
The Reform Party is heartened by the recent stay of execution granted to Yong Vui Kong, a convicted drug trafficker, pending a final appeal. However his chances of a reprieve are slim since the law prescribes the mandatory death penalty for anyone convicted of bringing more than 15g of heroin into Singapore. 
Singapore’s use of the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offences is out of step with its aspiration to be a first-world nation and has no place in a civilized society. Those executed have been overwhelmingly from the poorer, more vulnerable sections of society and in several disturbing cases (e.g., Iwuchukwu Amara Tochio) they do not appear to have had any knowledge of what they were transporting. The Reform Party calls for the abolition of the death penalty for drug trafficking offences and, in Yong Vui Kong’s case, for the commutation of his sentence to a lengthy prison term. There is no evidence that the death sentence has more of a deterrent effect than a life sentence. 
I personally am against the use of the death penalty in all but the most extreme circumstances. Once carried out, it is impossible to reverse and give life back to someone who has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice whereas other penalties permit the possibility of redress. I recall the case of Zainal Kuning, Mohammed Bashir Ismail and Salahuddin Ismail who confessed to a murder in 1989 and would have been convicted and sentenced to death at their trial in 1992 were it not for my father’s, the late J.B. Jeyaretnam, efforts in forcing the prosecution to re-examine the physical evidence and reveal that it implicated another individual and not his clients. If they had been executed and subsequently it had been discovered that another person was guilty of the crime it would have been too late to make amends and for justice to be served. 
Kenneth Jeyaretnam
The Reform Party

As part of We Believe in Second Chances, I am glad that these two parties are against the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. I am glad that if it were up to them, Yong Vui Kong would not needlessly lose his life.

I hope that the other political parties will not shy away from this issue. It is not just enough to talk about the economy or industry. This is also our chance to set a new direction for Singaporean society, and help us move towards being a more compassionate, merciful country.

- kirsten