Foreign Affairs Ministry must help Vui Kong

Amnesty International Malaysia urges the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry to appeal to the Singaporean authorities on behalf of Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian young man who faces imminent execution.

Clemency granted by the president, following advice from the cabinet of which the foreign minister is a member, is Yong's last hope.

On April 4, Singapore's Supreme Court rejected Yong Vui Kong's third and final appeal submitted by his lawyer, M. Ravi.

The appeal argued that Yong Vui Kong was subjected to unequal treatment before the law when the Attorney-General's Chamber decided not to prosecute the alleged mastermind of the drug operation, a Singaporean who was Yong Vui Kong's former boss.

He remains free from prosecution now that all 26 charges against him were withdrawn by the attorney-general's office.

Yet his former employee, Yong Vui Kong, has spent almost four years on death row and now faces imminent execution.

Yong Vui Kong was 19 when first arrested in 2007 for possessing 47g of heroin.

In 2008 Singapore's High Court sentenced him to death under the Misuse of Drugs Act - which provides the mandatory death sentence for anyone caught with over 15g of heroin.

The law strips the judiciary of discretion to pass a lesser sentence, or to individualize the sentence in conformity with the degree of culpability of the accused.

In 2005 the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said that Singapore's execution of another prisoner given capital punishment for trafficking heroin, Nguyen Tuong Van, would violate international legal standards relating to the imposition of the death penalty.

 "No international human rights tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human rights norms," the Special Rapporteur stated.

In resolution 2005/59, adopted on April 20, 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights urged all states still maintaining the death penalty "to ensure… that the death penalty is not imposed… as a mandatory sentence".

Amnesty International urges the Malaysian government to consider the worldwide trend among common-law countries to ban the use of the mandatory death penalty.

The US Supreme Court struck down mandatory penalty in 1976, ruling in Woodson v. North Carolina that "fundamental respect for humanity … requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense.

In 1983, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the penalty was unconstitutional in Mithu v. Punjab, stating that the legislature cannot make relevant circumstances irrelevant, deprive the courts of their legitimate jurisdiction to exercise their discretion."

More recently, in Attorney-General vs Kagula, the Supreme Court of Uganda in 2009 struck down that penalty because it prevented courts from considering all specific circumstances of the defendant and of the crime.

Yong Vui Kong's case has sparked widespread concern around the world.

Amnesty International Malaysia notes that you and some members of Parliament have requested the Singaporean authorities to grant Yong clemency in 2010, and we urge you to request for clemency once more.

The Singapore president can only grant a pardon upon the advice of the cabinet. Clemency for a death sentence has only been granted six times since independence in 1965.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and without reservation. More than two-thirds of states have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Death sentences and executions are decreasing globally and in Asia. Out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific, 28 have abolished it in law or in practice. 

Five out of the 10 Asean-member states have also abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Amnesty International Malaysia calls on the Malaysian Foreign Ministry to ensure respect for international legal standards by requesting the commutation of Yong Vui Kong's mandatory death sentence.