It was 4:30am in Scotland when I heard. After years of campaigning, anxiety and emotion, we finally have a happy ending for Yong Vui Kong. His death sentence has been set aside, replaced with a life term and 15 strokes of the cane. Supporters who were in the courtroom said he fell to his knees when he heard.
I wish I had been in that courtroom to lend my support. My thoughts are now with his family, torn between relief for his life spared and worry at the prospect of caning. His brothers and sisters who have worked so hard to work with activists, to speak with the media and to care for his mother throughout this whole ordeal – they have been through something no one would ever want to have to struggle with.
At the same time it feels strange to celebrate. It’s strange to feel joy at a sentence that includes something as cruel and barbaric as 15 strokes of the cane. It’s a punishment that has no rehabilitative purpose beyond inflicting pain in a desire for vengeance, and it’s worrying to think that it would be meted out on to a person as skinny and weak as Vui Kong.
And so it’s with mixed feelings that we look ahead to the future. As some have pointed out, where there is life there is hope, and on the balance of things today Vui Kong and his dedicated lawyer M Ravi have won. But our work is far from over; there are other cases to focus our attention on now, not to mention the fundamental problems with the mandatory death penalty and capital punishment.
It’ll still be a tough struggle ahead, but today we step forward with more confidence and hope than we’ve had in a long time.