SINGAPORE—Two convicted drug traffickers on death row in Singapore, including a Malaysian citizen, may escape the gallows after prosecutors ruled Wednesday that they had provided substantive assistance to police in fighting narcotics-related crime.
Malaysian protesters gathered outside the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in 2010 to urge the neighboring country’s government to pardon Yong Vui Kong from the death penalty for drug trafficking. The decision means the men may become the first drug couriers in Singapore to have their death sentences retroactively commuted, after the Southeast Asian nation relaxed sentencing guidelines for lower-level drug trafficking in January.
In a statement, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said it would certify in court that Yong Vui Kong – a 24-year-old Malaysian – and Subashkaran Pragasam – a 29-year-old Singaporean – had “substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore.”
If the two men can prove that they were merely couriers – as opposed to ringleaders, manufacturers, distributors and sellers – Singapore courts would have the discretion of punishing them with life sentences and at least 15 strokes of the cane, instead of the death penalty, the agency said.
Messrs. Yong and Subashkaran were in remand and couldn’t be reached for comment. Their lawyers said they would apply for their clients’ death sentences to be commuted.
Drug traffickers had typically faced a compulsory death sentence by hanging if the drugs ferried were above specified amounts, though amended sentencing rules now allow courts to hand down life sentences and caning penalties to convicted drug couriers who provide “substantive assistance” to police or are proved to have a mental disability. The revisions were implemented in part to encourage couriers to spill information to authorities to assist in nailing higher-level drug traffickers.
Some human-rights activists had welcomed the relaxed sentencing rule, calling it the first step in tempering what they call an unnecessarily harsh criminal-justice system. But others said the revised rule still gives prosecutors excessive power in deciding whether accused persons face the death penalty.
Mr. Yong was convicted in 2008 of trafficking 47.27 grams of Heroin, following his arrest a year earlier at age 19. Under Singapore law, people convicted of trafficking more than 15 grams of Heroin can be punished by death, and before January, the death penalty was mandatory.
Mr. Yong’s family and anti-death penalty activists subsequently mounted a high-profile campaign to get him spared from the hangman. His lawyer, M. Ravi, filed several appeals and legal challenges to his conviction and sentence, which were unsuccessful but helped stay Mr. Yong’s execution until the relaxed sentencing guidelines were announced.
Mr. Subashkaran was arrested in 2008 and convicted in 2011 of trafficking at least 186.62 grams of Heroin. He lost an appeal against his conviction in March, according to his lawyer, Tan Chuan Thye.
Lawyers for Messrs. Yong and Subashkaran said they were scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 9 to discuss their clients’ cases. It wasn’t immediately clear when the court would formally hear their resentencing applications.
Wednesday’s decision came after a similar case in April, when a drug courier was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, the first capital case to be tried under the newly relaxed death-penalty regime. In that case, prosecutors ruled that 29-year-old Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim had provided “substantive assistance” to authorities, helping him qualify for a discretionary penalty.
Singapore inherited the death penalty from its former British colonial rulers and first used capital punishment to control the spread of drugs in the 1970s. Capital punishment also is applicable for murder, kidnapping and firearms offenses, among other crimes.
Despite criticism from human-rights watchdogs, the ruling People’s Action Party has consistently defended its strong stance on crime and the death penalty, arguing that capital punishment has helped keep Singapore’s drug usage and homicide rates among the lowest in the world.
Apart from drug-related offenses, Singapore also has revised mandatory death sentences for murder cases, allowing judges the discretion to impose life imprisonment on a person found guilty of murder if the individual was found “not to have intended to cause death.”
According to Attorney-General’s Chambers, there are currently 26 persons on death row for drug offenses who can apply to be resentenced under the new penalty regime.
By Chun Han Wong
September 18, 2013
Southeast Asia Real Time
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