I am directed to refer to the petition for clemency for Kho Jabing and to inform you that the President, after due consideration of the petition and on the advice of the Cabinet, has decided that the sentence of death should stand.
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Principal Private Secretary
To the President
This is how a clemency petition is rejected. This is how a family, so fearful yet hopeful, is told that their loved one is going to die.
Jumai Kho folded the letter carefully and slid it back into its envelope. “When can we see Jabing?” she asked in Malay.
We were in a taxi going from the airport to their hostel. After the mad scramble of the past few days to deal with the logistics of getting Jabing’s mother and sister from Miri, Sarawak to Singapore, they were here at last: Day One of an open-ended stay and wait.
But it wasn’t actually Day One. For Jabing’s sister Jumai and mother Lenduk, it was just another day in a long period of waiting and hoping that had begun in 2010 when the worst happened (the first time).
Jabing had been involved in a robbery, during which he hit the victim over the head with what he described as either a piece of wood or a tree branch. The victim later succumbed to his injuries, and Jabing was eventually convicted of murder under Section 300c of the Singapore Penal Code.
Following the amendments to the mandatory death penalty regime in Singapore, Jabing was sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane in 2013. “The convicted person’s choice and use of the piece of wood during the attack were, in the words of the Court of Appeal, “opportunistic and improvisational” and not part of a pre-arranged plan,” wrote High Court Judge Tay Yong Kwang.
“There was no clear sequence of events concerning the attack,” he added. “There was no clear evidence that the convicted person went after the deceased from behind without warning and started hitting him on the head with the piece of wood.”
The re-sentencing was great news for the family that had only been able to visit Jabing twice since 2010 (it had taken them two years to save up enough money to see him). But the prosecution appealed the High Court’s decision, and in January this year he was once again sentenced to death after five judges in the Court of Appeal ruled 3-2 that the death penalty would be an appropriate sentence. Although three judges – two in the Court of Appeal as well as the High Court judge – did not feel that Jabing deserved the death penalty, he was sentenced to hang anyway.
It was this decision that has led us to where we are now – hoping against hope that something can still be done for Jabing even as we prepare for the worst.
“He told us that when he dies we should not be sad or cry because this is his destiny, and that he is very grateful for everyone’s help,” Jumai said after their first visit with her brother.
Although he had been a Christian before, Jabing had converted to Islam while in prison. “My brother says he wants the Malaysian embassy to help fly his body back to Miri after he dies,” Jumai added.
How should this be done? A Muslim burial should take place as soon as possible after death – how quickly can we transport a body from Singapore to Miri? What are the processes involved? Would the prison provide a casket, or would we have to buy one? How much would everything cost?
And so it was that we sat around a table for an awful, surreal meeting: to discuss the death rites for a young man not yet dead.
It felt strange to talk about it, almost as if we had given up on Jabing even though we haven’t. Yet it was what Jabing had spoken to his family about when they visited him in Changi Prison, and these are questions we might have to be ready to answer at short notice.