Category Archives: Cheong Chun Yin

The Death Penalty – Is this justice?

Kirsten Han /

Troy Davis

As I am writing this, it is being announced that Troy Davis has been executed, time of death 11:08pm (time in Georgia). Despite affidavits from witnesses recanting their statements, despite allegations of testimony extracted under duress, despite doubt cast on his guilt for about two decades, despite campaigns and protests all over the world, Troy Davis is dead.

Activists, campaigners and followers of his case say that this is the perfect example of all that is wrong with the death penalty.

From what I’ve seen since I’ve been involved with the anti-death penalty campaign, I have to agree. The death penalty in itself is manifestly unfair. And although we saw the injustice in Georgia today, there is injustice to be found within many death penalty cases all over the world.

Yong Vui Kong – On death row while his boss walks

In Singapore, Yong Vui Kong’s case is one that has been fairly high profile, out of all the death penalty cases. He has been on death row since 2008, and is now in the final stage of the process, awaiting a response to his clemency petition submitted to the President. If clemency is denied (and not one clemency has been granted in the past 12 or so years), he will be taken from his cell one Friday morning and hanged by the neck until dead at 6am, for a crime he committed when he was barely 19 years old, poor, naive and illiterate.

Meanwhile, we received news that the man who had recruited Vui Kong is being detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

NOTE: The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, or CLTPA, allows for people to be detained without trial if there is suspicion that he/she has been involved in criminal activity. However, if there is insufficient evidence to charge that person, he/she must be released.

This point was brought up by Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party in Parliament last year. Then-Defence Minister Wong Kan Seng confirmed that someone from the same syndicate as Vui Kong (whom we now believe to be his boss) is detained under the CLTPA.

Strangely enough, Mr Wong said that the CLTPA is used when there is “a lack of evidence that can be adduced in court, typically because witnesses are unwilling to testify for fear of reprisals”. But how can this be the case when it comes to Vui Kong’s boss? Haven’t we already got a witness – Vui Kong himself – in custody?

Vui Kong with his mother.

In fact, Vui Kong is not the only witness we had in custody. There used to be another boy in the cell next to his. His name was Robin Low, but Vui Kong called him Xiao Hu (??). Xiao Hu was also from Sabah, from a similarly disadvantaged background. Xiao Hu had been recruited by the same man who had recruited Vui Kong.

Xiao Hu has already been executed, dragged out of his cell screaming and crying one Friday morning.

It is incredibly unfair that while the recruiter is being detained without trial and will probably soon be released due to “a lack of evidence”, drug mules at the bottom of the food chain like Xiao Hu and Vui Kong are waiting for death. Vui Kong says that no one had ever even asked him about his boss, or whether he would testify against him. And so the man will walk, while Vui Kong waits to be hanged.

I am not saying that Vui Kong’s boss should also be executed. But I ask you this: is this justice? Is this what Singapore calls “a tough stance on crime and drugs”?

Cheong Chun Yin – “Immaterial” that investigators did not make “adequate efforts”

Cheong Chun Yin

When Cheong Chun Yin was arrested for drug trafficking, he was shocked. He had been under the impression that he was smuggling a some gold bars for a friend wanting to evade tax. He had been so sure that he wasn’t committing any serious offence that he left a photocopy of his passport and his travel itinerary in the suitcase when he handed it over in Singapore.

During interrogation, he cooperated fully with the investigating officers. He gave them the name of the man – “Lau De” – who had convinced him to go to Burma, who had arranged all the travel details and the handover of the suitcase. He described the man’s physical appearance, and even gave them the contact numbers he had used to get in touch with this man.

The officers made no attempt to trace this man to corroborate Chun Yin’s story or investigate further. In the written judgement of his trial, Judge Choo Han Teck said that it was “immaterial that the CNB did not made adequate efforts to trace Lau De or check on his cell-phones.”

When it is “immaterial” whether “adequate efforts” have been made during the investigation before a punishment as final and irreversible as the death sentence is passed, can we really say that justice has been served?

Roslan bin Bakar – Arrested a month after the fact without any drugs on him

Roslan bin Bakar

Roslan bin Bakar was arrested at his step-brother’s house a month after the alleged crime, with no drugs on him. He was charged with drug trafficking based on the testimony of three others who had been seen at the scene and arrested on the day of the crime. Up till today his story has been consistent – he had not even been there, and had nothing to do with it.

During the trial, Roslan provided an alibi that was backed up by his step-brother. However, Judge Choo Han Teck did not believe it, saying that his step-brother “appeared a little too anxious to provide an alibi.”

Although officers of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) had been monitoring everyone’s movements, not a single CNB officer could testify that Roslan had been at the scene. A fourth man, Norzainy, who had been arrested with the others testified that Roslan had not been there. However, the judge said, “I am mindful that Norzainy was trying his best not to identify Roslan, but his denial, inserted in the rest of his evidence and that of the others, strengthened the prosecution’s case against Roslan.”

Of those who testified against Roslan, one had his capital charged reduced, and admitted that “the reduction of the [capital] charge acted as an inducement for him to testify against Roslan.” Another had his capital charge withdrawn with a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.

Just like in Troy Davis’ case, there is too much doubt in Roslan’s, and very little explanation as to why the State is so eager to execute while questions remain. We’ve tried looking, but we haven’t been able to find any written judgement from the Court of Appeal explaining why Roslan’s appeal was denied. His sister, who had been at the verdict, does not remember any oral judgement either.

Vui Kong, Chun Yin and Roslan are not the only ones either. Singapore has hanged so many people. Going through court documents and case files, so many causes for concern can be highlighted. It makes me wonder – how many have we killed while doubts remain?

All three cases mentioned here are in the final stages of the process. All it takes now is a rejection of their clemency petitions (as decided by the Cabinet), and a death warrant signed by the President. And if they are executed, they would have been killed in the name of all Singaporeans. But will we be able to say that justice has been served, or that we are effectively dealing with our problems?

An Open Letter to Presidential Candidates

Dear Presidential Candidates,

My name is Kirsten Han, and I am one of the co-founders of We Believe In Second Chances. I was very encouraged to see my fellow campaigner Priscilla present at The Online Citizen’s Face 2 Face 2, to be able to speak with all of you on the death penalty. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your opinions on this issue.

For the first time in 18 years, Singaporeans will be able to vote for their Elected President. Many of us hope for an independent President who will be able to represent Singaporeans. But for another group of people (both Singaporean and non-Singaporean), this election takes on a darker significance – for them, the people of Singapore will be electing the man who will very possibly be signing their death warrants.

To Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr Tan Jee Say, we at Second Chances are very heartened to hear about your concerns with the President’s powers (or lack thereof) in the granting of clemency.

To Dr Tony Tan and Dr Tan Cheng Bock, we hope to be able to engage with you and draw you into a deeper discussion to see the our concerns, shared by a number of other Singaporeans.

At present, Second Chances is trying to raise awareness of and campaign for three death row inmates: Yong Vui Kong, Cheong Chun Yin and Roslan bin Bakar. All three have exhausted all legal avenues, and are at the clemency stage. Their petitions have been submitted; all that is left is for the response to be given.

As a presidential candidate, there is a very real possibility that you might be the one to be giving this response, telling these three men whether they can live or die.

Yong Vui Kong is 23 years old this year. He had been arrested at the age of 19 in possession of 42.27g of heroin. Unlike Ahmad Zahir Ismail, a gang member who was spared from jail and caning earlier this month, Vui Kong was sentenced to death under the Mandatory Death Penalty.

Vui Kong is now repentant, and has spent the past 4 years studying, meditating (he is now a devout Buddhist) and trying his best to atone for his mistakes within prison walls. He is not asking for acquittal and release. He is only asking to be allowed to live, so that he may continue in his self-improvement and meditation.

Cheong Chun Yin was charged with trafficking in over 2kg of heroin. However, he maintains to his day that he had been under the impression that he was only smuggling gold bars for a friend from the pasar malam where he worked. He also cooperated fully with the investigating officers, giving them details and even the phone numbers of the man who had arranged the whole job for him.

However, the investigating officers made no attempt to trace this man. The trial judge also ruled that it was “immaterial” that the officers did not make “adequate efforts” to do so.

Like Chun Yin, Roslan bin Bakar also continues to insist upon his innocence even though he is at the last stage of the process. Besides the testimonies of others, there was no concrete evidence proving that Roslan had been at the scene. Roslan also provided an alibi. His mother and step-brother testified in support, but the judge did not believe them.

For Vui Kong, Chun Yin and Roslan, this presidential election is more than just who is the most independent, or who is endorsed by this or that group. This is their very lives at stake.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, you said at the forum that you would have to “take into account whether if we do away with the death penalty… all those people, all the murderers, all the drug addicts… I don’t know whether clemency for these people is really justified or not because I got to think of the general population.”

As a viewer, the point you made appears to imply that you are considering the issue from a “death or acquittal” standpoint, which is a misconception held by many. However, none of the anti-death penalty campaigners have asked for an inmate to be fully acquitted (unless evidence has proven that he/she is innocent).

In fact, even if he could grant clemency on his own, the President can only commute the death sentence to life imprisonment, and cannot acquit the inmate. Therefore, convicts would still be separated from the general population by life imprisonment. Would this still be harmful to the general population? Must there be death before Singapore can be safe?

You also say – “If we just do away with the death penalty I want to know really what impact is gonna go…”

Conversely, there is no concrete evidence to show that the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent against crimes like drug trafficking. Second Chances believes that it is important to back up arguments for the death penalty with real research and statistics. This is why we are calling for a moratorium so that a study can be done.

To Dr Tony Tan, as a viewer I must confess that I still find your views upon the issue of the death penalty and the President’s powers in granting clemency to be unclear. Although I agree that we must respect Parliament, I would still be most interested to hear your personal opinion on this issue. I know that the Constitution doesn’t allow you any discretion in clemency proceedings, but I also want to know that my President is a compassionate person who will think twice before agreeing to take away another person’s life.

I thank all four of you for entering this race and giving Singaporeans a choice of President for the first time in 18 years. The death penalty remains as one of the major issues concerning the office of the President, and it is one that Second Chances hopes you will give serious consideration to.

Sincerely,

Kirsten Han
Co-founder, We Believe in Second Chances

NGOs form a coalition against the death penalty in Malaysia

Kirsten Han /

Six NGOs, together with the cooperation of the Malaysian Bar Council and certain Members of the Malaysian Parliament, have come together to make a stand on the use of the death penalty in Malaysia.

A forum held in Kuala Lumpur on 11 May 2011 was the first in a series of events to be organised as part of a long-term campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty in Malaysia.

The forum, which focused on the death penalty in relation to drug offences, had three panellists: Andrew Khoo, chairman of the Malaysian Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee, YB Gobind Singh, lawyer and MP of Puchong, and M Ravi, Singaporean human rights lawyer.

The forum’s moderator, Ms Sharmila Kumari of human rights NGO Hakam, opened the forum with the hope that the death penalty campaign would become a national movement. “As Malaysians we cannot just sit back as fellow citizens are in this situation [facing the death penalty] without making a stand,” she said.

“You should trust your judges”

The first speaker, Mr Gobind, questioned the necessity of the mandatory aspect of the death penalty, which takes away the judges’ discretion in meting out sentences. “At the end of the day you should trust your judges,” he said.

He explained the presumption clauses that are part of Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA), which shifts the burden of proof on to the accused*. The law is therefore stacked against the accused, and makes it extremely easy to convict a person.

Once a person is convicted, the judge has no choice but to hand down the death sentence.

Mr Gobind mentioned that there had been cases in Malaysia where appeal courts later found that prior judges had been wrong, or when laws had been amended as they were deemed to be wrong or unjust.

“What do you tell the families of those people who have been hanged [under the old law]?” he asked the audience.

He later added that “where a system is subject to flaws I don’t think we should take the risk to subject a person to death”, as the execution of a death sentence is irreparable, and studies suggest that it does not work as a deterrence.

“Lives cannot be taken for granted”

In his speech, Mr Ravi stated that in all Commonwealth countries except Malaysia and Singapore, the mandatory death penalty has been declared to be a “cruel and unusual punishment”. This is because the mandatory nature does not allow any room for mitigation, and takes away the powers of the judges.

He updated the audience on the case of Yong Vui Kong, whose case has gained a lot of media attention in Malaysia. Vui Kong has until 4 July 2011 to submit his clemency petition. If the petition is turned down, Mr Ravi expects that Vui Kong will be executed some time in November.

Mr Ravi urged the Malaysian government to intervene on the behalf of another Malaysian, Cheong Chun Yin, who is also in Singapore’s death row. Cheong’s time is running out as a reply to his clemency petition to the Singapore president could arrive any day now.

He also felt that certain issues in the case of Yong Vui Kong would give Malaysia the grounds to take the case up with the International Court of Justice in a bid to save the young man’s life.

Mr Ravi then brought up the case of Noor Atiqah, a Singaporean single mother who was sentenced to death in the Shah Alam High Court in Malaysia in March 2011. Atiqah currently has two more rounds of appeals to go, and is being represented by forum panellist Mr Gobind.

Mr Ravi spoke about the cooperation between himself and Mr Gobind, as well as with the UK-based Death Penalty Project, to mount a constitutional challenge of the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia.

“We are quite positive this challenge will succeed,” Mr Ravi said, adding that the momentum that the anti-death penalty campaign has gained in Malaysia since Yong Vui Kong’s case was first brought up has been encouraging. He urged the Malaysian people to continue pushing the momentum and to “make a stand to say that lives cannot be taken for granted.”

“There can be mistakes”

The final speaker, Mr Khoo, gave a brief overview of the DDA in Malaysia,which was first passed in 1952. He pointed out that from 1952 – 1975, the DDA did not have a provision for the death penalty to be used, and that the death penalty was only made mandatory in 1983.

He also presented the following statistics: between 1988 and 1995, human rights organisation SUARAM reported that there were 194,797 drug addicts registered. Between 1988 and 2005, there were 289,763 drug addicts registered, meaning that there had been an increase of 94,966 drug addicts between 1995 and 2005.

Mr Khoo asked the audience to think about what the statistics suggested. “Are we not hanging enough people? Or is the mandatory death penalty not working?” he said.

He urged everyone to look at the socio-economic background of many of the people who had been deemed by the courts to be trafficking drugs. “We need to ask ourselves whether society is somehow partly responsible forputting these people in a situation of being susceptible to being in thesecircumstances,” he said.

Like his fellow panellists, Mr Khoo also questioned the need for the mandatory death penalty, saying, “We want experienced judges, but at a time where they can bring their experience to bear in sentencing, we have taken the power away from them.”

In closing, Mr Khoo brought up the issue of public perception of the death penalty, which he said was the “greatest challenge” in the campaign.

He felt that anti-death penalty campaigners would have to be ready and willing to address the fact that families are being hurt by loved ones turning into drug addicts, and that such a debate was necessary.

He also highlighted a need for a situation or case that would point out the sheer injustice of the mandatory death penalty for drugs to the public “to bring the story home”.

“What can I do now?”

After the panellists had given their speeches, Chun Yin’s father, Mr Cheong, made an emotional and desperate plea to the audience, saying that his son had been tricked into carrying drugs into Singapore.

“I don’t know what to do. He’s been used by others, what can I do?” he asked with tears in his eyes. “I asked him to come back and help me again. I’m sick, I have high blood pressure, I need to take medication… what can I do now? I don’t sleep at night. I just wait for him to come home.”

What the public can do

During the question-and-answer session, Mr Gobind said that according to the Home Minister, 441 people** have been hanged in Malaysia since 1960, for which 228 cases were for drug offences.

The Home Minister also revealed that, as of 2 February 2011, 696 people are currently on death row in Malaysia, 479 for drug offences.

The panellists all agreed with a suggestion from the floor that a coordinated, long-term and sustained campaign be launched against the death penalty in Malaysia. Both Ms Kamuri and Mr Khoo said the door was open for any volunteers or organisations in Malaysia to join the campaign.

The panellists, as well as Ms Ngeow Chow Ying from the Save Vui Kong Campaign, also urged the Malaysian public to lobby their respective MPs and state assemblymen, as well as to do their part in raising public awareness within their own networks of family and friends.

After the forum, the audience was invited to take a look at a small exhibition by Amnesty International’s Malaysian chapter on the death penalty around the world.

* These presumption clauses can also be found in Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act.

** An Amnesty International report on the death penalty in Singapore estimated that 420 people have been hanged between 1991 – 2004.