“His first clemency plea was unsuccessful and now convicted drug mule Yong Vui Kong’s last chance to escape death lies in the President’s hands, after the highest court in the land dismissed his appeal” (Convict’s Last Chance To Escape Death, Mr. Teo Xuanwei).
I have been following Mr. Yong Vui Kong’s case and proceedings with tremendous disappointment and empathy; and Mr. Teo Xuanwei’s report “Convict’s Last Chance To Escape Death” (May 15, 2010) seemed like the final nail to the coffin. Singapore has constantly been in the spotlight for its unforgiving stance towards drug traffickers; similarly, this case involving Mr. Yong has attracted much dissent and controversy.
The subject of capital punishment – as a moral issue – would continue to draw its fair share of proponents and opponents. Supporters assert the need for strong deterrence and reprisals, pointing to Singapore’s security; while others explain the inhumanity of the sentence and propose more viable alternatives. Yet, one must be cognisant that public opinion on capital punishment is often generalised, without taking into account the individual offences that have death prescribed as the punishment. For instance, in the theoretical absence of wrongful executions, most are in favour of the death penalty for extremely serious offences under the Penal Code, such as murder.
However, when it comes to the Misuse of Drugs Act, many do not see how the execution of a drug runner or mule is a sustainable option to stem the flow of drug trafficking. The smuggling organisations and drug barons – who are clearly unaffected in any way – would see incentives in continuing their operations. They take advantage of youths from impoverished backgrounds, and use their ignorance to great lengths in transportation and sales. Essentially, the execution of a drug pawn has little significance in addressing the larger drug trafficking issues; conversely, it has disproportionate emotional ramifications on the individual’s family and friends.
No one is denying the consequences of allowing drugs to spread unabatedly. Nonetheless, genuine efforts should be targeted at working with regional authorities to get to the root of the drug problem rather than dealing with peripheral distractions. For Mr. Yong: give him a second chance, grant him a way out, and similarly send a strong message to youths who might be tempted to join the drug trade to think twice.
At the moment, I hope that the President would give serious consideration to Mr. Yong’s unfortunate plight and background; and give him a chance to jumpstart his life in the right way. Looking beyond, Singaporeans should emerge from their indifference towards the issue and not be afraid of establishing their moral compasses and perspectives. Emerging sentiments from the ground would provide the much needed impetus for the administration to re-think aspects of capital punishment, and inject greater flexibility to the judicial system.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.