The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), representing 164 organisations across the world, calls on the Singaporean authorities to uphold the right to life, as enshrined in international law, and urges HE S. R. Nathan, President of Singapore, to exercise his constitutional power to grant a pardon to Mr. Yong Vui Kong, a 22-year-old Malaysian national, who has been sentenced to death by hanging.
Mr Yong, from Sabah, Malaysia, was 19 years old when he was arrested on 13 June 2007 in Singapore for drug possession and was later charged with trafficking 47.27g of diamorphine under Section 5(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act. He was convicted by the Singapore High Court in 7 January 2009 and sentenced to death by hanging (1). In December 2009, Mr Yong appealed against his sentence but not his conviction, admitting his action was wrong and in violation of the law. In a trial marred by public comments by executive officials, undermining the independence of the judicial proceedings, his appeal was dismissed on 14 May 2010 by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong. At this final stage in the proceedings, Mr. Yong’s only escape from the gallows is a presidential pardon commuting his sentence from execution to life imprisonment, on the advice of the Cabinet, pursuant to Article 22(P) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
Several mitigating factors point towards the appropriate use of a presidential pardon in this case. Mr. Yong was born into a disadvantaged and vulnerable family situation. After his family moved to the estate of another family member, where Mr. Yong and his mother were repeatedly abused, Mr. Yong moved on his own as a youth to Kuala Lumpur. In addition, Mr Yong is repentant for his crime and has openly recognised his wrong-doing. He has consequently embraced Buddhism while incarcerated and has been educating his fellow inmates as well as the wider public on the destructive nature of drugs, hoping to use his remaining days to provide positive guidance to young people like himself.
FIDH opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a cruel, inhuman punishment that violates one of the most fundamental human rights: the right to life. In addition, our Organisation wishes to underline that execution of drug traffickers both in Singapore as well as in other parts of the world has had no apparent or proven deterrent effect on drug trafficking. Despite Law Minister Shanmugam’s words to the contrary, there is no empirical data supporting the deterrence effect of the death penalty for drug crimes, especially among indigent and vulnerable sectors of society. In this particular case, FIDH invites the Singaporean authorities, in particular President Nathan, to consider Mr Yong’s repentance, background, and the positive message his rehabilitation and reform can send to young people around world in commuting Mr. Yong’s sentence to life in prison. To this end, FIDH strongly urges a presidential pardon be granted to Mr Yong and calls the Singaporean government to take concrete steps towards abolishing the death penalty.