At a Parliamentary sitting on 15 September 2010, then-NCMP Sylvia Lim posed an interesting question to then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng. She asked if the government had detained, under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, any person believed to have organised drug trafficking activities involving Yong Vui Kong, an inmate on death Row.
The Minister’s response was just as interesting. In a written reply, Wong said, “Apart from Yong, there were indeed others who were part of the syndicate. Several have been prosecuted for trafficking. One has been detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.” (Read Wong’s full statement here.)
In a recent letter to Yong’s lawyer, M Ravi, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) identified that person as Chia Choon Leng – the very same person Yong had named, in a police statement, as the mastermind of his crime. However the AGC said Yong also made it clear that he did not wish to identify Chia in court. (Read AGC’s letter and M Ravi’s query here.)
The AGC said Prosecution did not call Chia as a witness because his evidence was not necessary for their case. It said it also informed the Defense about the detention, however, Yong’s then-lawyers decided not to call Chia as a witness. According to court records, the Prosecution withdrew charges against Chia due to “the difficulty of the evidence”. Instead, “executive action” was taken against him.
It is unclear why Yong decided not to identify Chia in court. One can only speculate. What is clear though is that despite “the difficulty of the evidence”, Chia remains in custody. This must surely mean that authorities have sufficient reason to detain him. But while Chia will eventually be let go, Yong has been sentenced to hang.
Therein lies the problem with the Mandatory Death Penalty. Our judges’ hands are tied. Once a person is found guilty of trafficking in a certain amount of drugs, the court has no choice but to send him to the gallows. The government has regularly argued that draconian measures are necessary in order to keep Singapore drug-free. However, we can see from Yong’s case that bigger fish are sometimes allowed to get away, not only without conviction, but without charge.
If Singapore wants to be serious about crime prevention, it needs to rethink its strategy. State-sanctioned killing isn’t the answer. It leaves open the possibility that innocent people might be sentenced to death, and in the case of the MDP, it creates outcomes that are manifestly unfair. Very often, drug mules are themselves victims of their circumstances – they tend to be young, vulnerable and ignorant. Chia should be thoroughly investigated and charged, not held without trial. Yong, for his part, should be punished. Drug trafficking is, after all, a serious offense. But he does not deserve to die.