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Cases, Cheong Chun Yin, Roslan bin Bakar, Thoughts on Death Penalty, Yong Vui Kong

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 (小虎). 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?

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Discussion

12 thoughts on “The Death Penalty – Is this justice?

  1. How sad! So many evidences pointing to the innocence of Troy. I almost believed that he would not be executed even though I knew that as of yesterday, he was still waiting for a stay that this comes as a shock. It is very, very sad. Rest in peace, Troy.

    Posted by roni63 | September 22, 2011, 2:33 pm
  2. PAP, please don’t murder in my name because there is no justice in murder.

    Posted by roni63 | September 22, 2011, 2:41 pm
  3. Dear Ms Han,

    I have to take serious issue with your portrayal of the Troy Davis case, as well as the cases you mention.

    Firstly, the Troy Davis issue. Yes, several witnesses have recanted their statements and several have cried their statements were made undre duress.

    At the same time, the defense’s witness and evidence have crumbled first during his jury trial back in the 90s and in a unsuprising twist, the defence at his retrial deigned not to call in several witnesses, some whom were waiting right outside the courtroom.

    A credit to his defense team, they realised that just as the same witnesses will likely crumble under questioning, the same might likely happen again. Instead, they were hoping that public and political pressure will change the minds of both the jury and the judge.

    I have no idea why you decided to bring into the picture the actions of activists.You know what else decides guilty and not guilty on public opinion? Lynch mobs. Fortunately, the jury and the judge manage to do their system a credit and saw Mr Davis case for what it is. A political circus and a defence team hoping a potent mix of alleged racism and appeals to the youth of the accused will make them overlook the holes in Davis’ defence and the fact he shot a man in cold blood while he was lying on the ground wounded.

    Meanwhile, Davis himself, with his life on the line did not take to the witness stand. Perhaps afraid that the jury, who surely had been exposed to material trying to sway them into believing his absence of guilt will decide he is in fact the man that shot a man in cold blood?

    This is no scared boy trying to make ends meet. This is a unrepentant thug who didn’t even have the courage to face his death with a little dignity.

    http://multimedia.savannahnow.com/media/pdfs/DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Here’s a look at the Chief Judge Moore’s written judgement. Perhaps this will help show just how shady Davis’ defense really is.

    “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.”

    The alleged recruiter ( please note that his alleged boss has not been convicted of any crime, merely suspected) being detained while the convicted Mr Yong who in any case does not dispute his guilt any longer awaits his date with the rope is how the justice system should work. No evidence and witnesses so uncredible that a law student will rip apart any case the AG brings against them means a responsible AG should not be offering a reduced charge in return for testimony. It simply means pouring legal resources down the drain.

    If you believe Mr Yong to be a credible witness, please state why. There is nothing to suggest he cannot simply finger any of his mates wtih shady backgrounds, given his own life. Simply because the alleged recruiter recruited them into a gang? Does that mean he recruited them for drug smuggling? Just being a gang member headman does not automatically equates recruiting a drug mule.

    “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?”

    Yes, yes we can. The reason why Mr Cheong is now facing the noose is because of his part in smuggling drugs into Singapore. The CNB officer’s primary duty is to arrest then build a case for the AG to prosecute him. Finding Lau De, if he does indeed exist is the Defense Counsel’s duty.

    This is an adverserial system, Ms Han. The State and AG is not obliged to help in the defense of a man they are accusing of a crime.

    Posted by JayF | September 23, 2011, 9:59 pm
    • this enthusiasm for legal minutiae unfortunately leaves us missing the point by a mile. our understanding of justice should not be about legal guilt, but whether the law is able to protect the vulnerable. get your head out of the courtroom and breathe the fresh air?

      Posted by your law prof wants his textbook back | September 23, 2011, 10:27 pm
    • oh yeah and work on your syntax please! will help you loads when you’re a hotshot DPP 😀

      Posted by your law prof wants his textbook back | September 23, 2011, 10:31 pm
    • Good god, I hope you’re not ever thinking of becoming a lawyer. Did you read the judgement properly? If you did, you would have realised that it is all sorts of problematic. I can’t be bothered to take it apart here. But I think it is enough to say that for whatever reason, the judge in this case based his decision on the fact that Troy Davis couldn’t PROVE HIS INNOCENCE. Last I checked, it was the prosecution that had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

      Since you seem to enjoy going into minute details, let me bring up a minor point – only one witness was waiting in the courtroom, not some, as you asserted.

      Also since you like circular arguments, let’s use that on Yong’s case then. If his boss is innocent, why is he being held? (Please don’t answer this question. I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by “circular arguments”.)

      The State and AG have every obligation to do all they can to make sure a case is airtight (or as close to airtight as possible) before prosecuting anyone. It’s what they are duty-bound to do. Unfortunately, in Singapore, the Misuse of Drugs Act makes the AG’s job way too easy – if you are caught with a certain amount of drugs, you are PRESUMED to be trafficking. The AG didn’t have to work very hard to build a case against Cheong. They relied on an absurd law. This is not justice. It is insanity.

      Posted by Lynn | September 24, 2011, 12:04 am
    • Law isn’t only about what’s written in statute books, or how 2 sides slug it out in a courtroom. Primarily, it should be about what works on a practical level, in this instance stopping drugs from coming into Singapore.

      From this perspective I would say the law has failed in both Yong and Cheong’s cases.

      Can you really be serious in saying that it’s not a CNB officer’s duty to follow leads that could bring about arrests further up the supply chain? Is that what you call a responsible position?

      And why the double standard that says it’s OK for people to be convicted of trafficking based purely on testimonies of “accomplices”, but now the shoe’s on the other foot, Yong is suddenly an “unreliable witness”? Perhaps you believe in an adversarial system but not in a level playing field?

      I suggest you pull your head out from your proverbial adversarial system, and look at the bigger picture.

      Does the law achieve its objective? If not, we not only waste resources going after the likes of Yong and Cheong, we become morally bankrupt in the process.

      Posted by James | September 24, 2011, 3:53 am
  4. To the above comment,

    “this enthusiasm for legal minutiae unfortunately leaves us missing the point by a mile. our understanding of justice should not be about legal guilt, but whether the law is able to protect the vulnerable. get your head out of the courtroom and breathe the fresh air?”
    Due process IS how the law protects the vulnerable. Not letting the judge or jury be swayed by the whims of public or political opinion prevents the courtroom from becoming a star chamber. The AG judging further action on each case based primarily on the legal strength of the prosecutions case and less on political expidiency means that the state does not find itself bogged down in the legal system and logjams the wheels of justice.

    Professionalism when the State is the one wielding the law ensures that when the weight of the state is brought against a private individual, the scales are at least on theory balanced. The rules of evidence are equal to both the AG and Defence counsel.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to find the written judgements much like Ms Han did on the final case, nor was I able to read the testimonies of the accused and the CNB officers to see how the judge in the last case reached his decision. So I will not comment on it. However, since I do not have sufficient information, neither am I prepared to say that Mr Roslan is not guilty since people can be credibly convicted on circumstancial evidence and testimony, barring a credible defence.

    Posted by JayF | September 24, 2011, 6:31 am
    • I think that our definitions of “justice” here are completely different, which is why our arguments are built upon different basis.

      To you, justice has been served as long as the letter of the law is followed, procedure has been followed and the boxes checked off. This is probably also what the former Chief Justice Yong Pung How thought when he told human rights lawyer M Ravi that it’s possible for an innocent man to be hanged so long as procedure is followed and the process closed.

      But that’s exactly what we’re saying – if, like ex-CJ Yong says, it is possible to hang an innocent as long as procedure is followed – then there is something wrong with the law. And if there is something wrong with the law in the first place, then it’s not enough that we just follow the letter of the law.

      As James has said in his comment above, we need to examine the purpose of the law. What is it there for? Is it there to try to reduce the problem of drug-related crimes, or is it there to just apprehend and hang people?

      If the former, then it doesn’t make sense that we don’t seem to be using these mules that we have caught to try to trace the supply chain so we can catch the bigger fish. It also doesn’t make sense that the CNB officers do not investigate all leads.

      I’m not saying that Chun Yin and Roslan ARE innocent. What I’m saying is, that there are too many doubts, too many unanswered questions, for us to impose a punishment as final and irreversible as the death penalty on them. (I notice that for all your arguments on minutiae and details, you don’t even address the implications, finality and consequences of using capital punishment.) Even if we are not convinced that they are innocent babes, are we so sure that they are so guilty that we would put them to death? Are we so bloodthirsty that we would insist that people have to die before we are satisfied?

      Posted by Kirsten | September 24, 2011, 11:20 am
  5. Dear Lynn,

    Problem with the Troy Davis case here is that Troy Davis has already been found guilty. The defense choose to not call upon a key witness which in theory should have proven his being not guilty. The presumption would be a tall order, considering that previous courts had found him guilty and the defense could not disprove that testimony indicting him is faulty or the character of the witnesses unreliable.

    The judgement also states clearly that Davis could not disprove the testimonies stacked against him and further more he declined to take the stand. Such behaviour would rightly cause Judge Moore to think that he is guilty, considering the stakes.

    Did Davis sabotage his own appeal on advise of his lawyers? We can only speculate but he had close to twenty years to prepare his defense and public opinion behind him.

    Lastly, we should also remember while Judge Moore of the Georgia Supreme Court found him guilty, the Supreme Court of the USA decided after a four hour deliberation that the evidence against him fit the bill for him to be executed. They had stayed the needle three times before.

    Not this time, apparently they found all avenues and doubts reasaonbly exhausted. Even if Judge Moore sets too onerous a standard, the Supreme Court, which had before stayed their hands decided not to this time round.

    Dear James,

    For Cheong’s case, the CNB should follow up with leads provided that there is a reasonable chance of success. Many an arrested smuggler will gladly snitch on their suppliers if it means avoiding the rope, but not too many of them are useful snitches. How detailed is a detailed physical description I do not know. A tel no is not something that can be conclusively linked to someone, with pre-paid cards so easily abused. What’s more, what Cheong can offer is an alias, not even a name or address.

    Is this Lau De in Singapore? Or is he in Malaysia. If he is in Malaysia, can we trust the Malaysian police to bring him in or can we be sure of their cooperation in surveliance of this person? Sadly, Cheong didn’t know enough and didn’t bring enough to the table that the CNB would be inclined to follow his lead. One would think Lau De be smart enough to get rid of the number in a hurry once it’s clear the cargo has been intercepted. And of course keep his real name secret.

    Yong is an unreliable witness because he is going to have to bear witness that the headman had recruited him, rather than being an active participant in drug smuggling. The police already have evidence of the act of smuggling, so that fact has been established, but to prove recruiting is like proving conspiracy, far more difficult because there is no physical evidence of a deed done.

    The only thing Yong can likely prove is that the headman is a gang member, but to link that to drug smuggling is difficult, to say the least.

    Yong would have incentive to finger him and the headman would be a convient target considering his background. But at no point we know of was the recruiter involved in the smuggling directly and Yong could not prove that the headman is indeed the mastermind. Also unlike Yong, the headman is not caught with the drugs red handed.

    Posted by JayF | September 24, 2011, 7:25 pm
  6. Dear Ms Han,

    Before I continue further, I must first state clearly while I take issue with the way you have presented the cases and your stand, I do not have anything against you personally.

    If I had offended you, I apologise.

    Your tireless work and passion is examplary and your altrusim is inspiring, even if I disagree on the purpose you are serving and find that the ends you pursue will end the security that I hold so dear in Singapore.

    I know it may seem callous but former CJ Yong made a factual statement, that no legal system devised by humans can prevent completely a miscarriage of justice. Just as we cannot design roads that will ensure no one gets killed by another road user, so we cannot make laws that are foolproof because fools always find ways to remove the proof part.

    What is important is that due process is followed, so that at the very least everyone gets the same odds. Many a legal judgement has been written and opinion given that the legal system is not concerned with the finding of truth, it being too onerous a task for the legal system but rather the establishment of liability and guilt given the testimony and evidence as well as the strength of the case presented by the respective sides.

    Not the most ideal of situations, but thus far the most time tested and proven to be effective.

    The purpose of the law is to aid in the administration of the state, in this case to minimise the effect the illegal drugs have on society. We know where the drugs are coming from and sadly many of them are based in countries where the political situation makes enforcement difficult. The poppy fields are growing in open view for everyone to see.

    To tackle the supply problem, we need to change the situation in the countries that produce them, and give econmic incentive to the farmers growing them so they switch to something else. But we do not have the billions in aid to give to the respective governments, nor do we have the herbicides to dump from planes like the Americans did in Colombia.

    All this is beyond the scope of the CNB. What they can and should do is to stem the flow of the drugs by intercepting the carriers and mules, and make the risk as high as possible for the mules that the potential pool of recruits shrink to a certain breed of desperate and/ or naive people. Further action would be to pass on intel garnered to the respective police of the supply countries, but given the state of things where the drugs are grown and processed, I’m not optimistic.

    Capital punishment is the ultimate penalty that a modern state can impose, barring collective punishment and should only be imposed with the strictest of procedures followed and under clearly specified rules. As has been brought up, yes, sometimes the sword falls on the wrong head and no amount of restitution will bring back a wrongly executed man,

    However, this is a heavy but bearable price to pay in return for the safety we have today.I have accepted that this is a price in exchange for our relatively drug free enviroment-the lives of a couple hundred smugglers, their guilt established as far as our system is concerned.

    There have been studies that cast doubt on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrence, but I only have to look at how drugs are viewed in societies that have a softly, softly approach to them ( parents have a real worry that their kids will be exposed to them, and many are resigned to it) versus our hardline approach where even the lower paid working class can realistically live their entire lives without being exposed to it unless you go looking for it.

    Considering that we live near several prominent drug exporting hotzones outside of Afghanistan and Colombia, our drug scene is relatively contained.

    As a final note, as this has been thrown against me against many an anonymous poster who hated my stand on drugs is that if I am told to witness the execution of a loved one for drug smuggling, will I do it? If I am satisfied that he is guilty and that all due process due to him is given, then yes.

    I will witness his last moments before his neck is snapped on a noose.

    I will no doubt be haunted by the image for the rest of my days, and no doubt I will mourn for him before and after. But I have accepted the need for the penalty- my experience overseas where the law’s awe and dread has long been removed has convinced me that it is needed.

    Even if it was to be used against me, should I ever do something so heinous. I will likely tremble before the noose, death is not something easily faced, but I will accept it. It’s the very least I can do when I accept that some blood must be spilled.

    Posted by JayF | September 24, 2011, 8:09 pm

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